Why Touching A Robot’s Butt Creates Discomfort Among People

First Posted: Apr 06, 2016 11:41 AM EDT

There is nothing weirder than a robot asking you to touch its butt. Although it may sound a little weird, the anthropomorphization and proliferation of robots paved the way for Stanford scientists to consider it.

A humanoid robot is designed to sense the environment around it as well as interact with everyone in ways much like what a real person does. However, its human-like attributes are a mere simulation for the time being.

According to an article on TechCrunch, this coming June, Stanford University researchers will be presenting a paper, entitled 'Touching a Mechanical Body: Tactile Contact With Intimate Parts of a Human-Shaped Robot is Physiologically Arousing' in Japan's Annual Conference of the International Communication Association. The study was aimed to find out the presence of discomfort among the participants after being asked by a NAO robot to touch its butt.

The respondents of the study who are actually undergrad students were isolated in a room with a NAO robot. According to a news article on Spectrum, each of them was required to put his non-dominant hand on a skin-conductance sensor in order to measure the physiological arousal. In the study, the term physiological arousal generally means awareness, alertness and attention.

Dr. Angelica Lim, Aldebaran Robotics software engineer, gave a different point-of-view on this study. "I touch Pepper's butt all the time. It's weird at first, but then you get used to it. That's the mantra in general for robots. You just get used to it, because it's not a human, it's a robot," Dr. Lim says, referring to the social humanoid robot designed by SoftBank and Aldebaran.

"The researchers created a particular context in which the robot is touched. People grab NAO's bum when they carry it like a baby, but when the robot is sitting up, shoulders back, staring at you, and talking, we put the robot's IQ at a higher level, project maturity, and recreate the social constructs that we have between adult humans," Dr. Lim pointed out. 

As humanoid robots gradually become sophisticated and acquire human-like qualities, the question of touch interaction will become more and more significant. 

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