Disturbing Valley Theory: Aversion to what seems human

If, when observing an almost human-looking robot, you experience a series of unpleasant sensations, you may end up under a phenomenon explained by the disturbing valley theory.

This theory attempts to give an explanation for the reactions that a person experiences before the presence of a too human figure or image, but which on the other hand is not enough.

    What is the disturbing valley theory?

    The disturbing valley theory, as well as the term disturbing valley itself, are concepts related to the world of robotics and 3D animation which refer to a shift in people’s reaction to the presence of an anthropomorphic figure. That is to say in the presence of a figure or a non-living object, but with a great appearance of person. These anthropomorphic figures can refer to Android robots or very realistic 3D animations.

    The term “disturbing valley” was created by professor and robotics specialist Masahiro Mori in 1970, and its name in Japanese was Bukimi no Tani Genshō. Under the translation known as the Eerie Valley, there is a metaphor that attempts to clarify the reactions people have to the presence of a robot in human form.

    According to this theory, a person’s reaction to an anthropomorphic robot is increasingly positive and empathetic as the appearance of the figure becomes more and more human. However, there is a turning point at which this reaction completely changes; to become an aversion response due to over-likeness.

    The name “valley” refers to the inclination of the curve present in the graph made by Mori, which calculates how favorable the human response is to the presence of an anthropomorphic figure: it rises as its appearance. human also grows, to the point where the first plunges when the second is very high.

    On the other hand, the term “disturbing” refers to the feeling of strangeness or aversion that causes the perception of something that looks human but is not.

    What causes this aversion?

    Although it has not yet been possible to come to a completely valid conclusion on the causes of this sensation, there are several theories which attempt to explain the why of this phenomenon.

    1. Hypothesis of rejection of the disease

    A hypothesis developed by psychologist Thalia Wheatley indicates that after centuries of evolution, humans have developed the ability to detect any kind of distortion in other humans and identify or associate it with any type of physical or mental illness.

    Therefore, the feeling of aversion to something that looks human, but shows clear signs that it is not, would be nothing more than a natural defense of our brain against the idea of ​​disease and even death.

    This means that all of these distortions or rarities that we perceive in front of an anthropomorphic figure are directly associated, by our brain, with the idea or image of people considerably sick or even dead, thus eliciting a response of aversion or disgust.

    2. The paradoxical sorites

    Also known as the Battery Paradox. Although this explanation is not directly related to the disruptive valley theory, many experts and theorists have used it to try to find the cause.

    This paradox arises when a person tries to use common sense about a vague, imprecise, or unclear concept. In the case of the Eerie Valley, the human-like figures they end up undermining our sense of identity trying to find a logical explanation for what we are observing. It generates a negative feeling of rejection of what we do not understand.

    3. Hypothesis of violation of human standards

    According to this hypothesis, if a figure or robot has an appearance that could be identified with human, it generates a certain degree of empathy. However, when this figure only partially resembles a human, possessing notable non-human characteristics (such as a lack of clear expression of unnatural feelings or bodily movements) causing a feeling of uncertainty and a repulsive reaction.

    4. Assumption of the religious definition of the person

    In some societies strongly influenced by religious norms and concepts about human beings, The existence of artificial and anthropomorphic objects or figures constitutes a threat to the idea of ​​being human as it has been conceived by different religions.

    5. Hypothesis of “specialization”

    American psychiatrist Irvin Yalom explains that humans, faced with fear of death, created a series of psychological defenses that curb the anguish caused by the certainty that one day we will die. One of these defenses is “specialization”. It is an irrational and unconscious belief that we assume that death is something inherent in life but that it is something that only applies to others, not to ourselves.

    Therefore, the confrontation with an object or robot with a high human likeness can become so intense that it causes a mismatch between “specialization” and existential defenses, generating a sense of vital anguish.

    Criticisms of Mori’s model

    As with most unscientific theories, the disruptive valley theory has not escaped criticism. Some experts in the world of robotics reject Mori’s idea on the grounds that there is no basis to justify the reaction curve created by him.

    In addition, they rely on the fact that at the moment it is only possible to create partially human robotsThe theory would therefore not have sufficient foundations. Instead, they claim that in any case, it could generate a kind of cognitive dissonance whereby our brains generate expectations of how a human should be, expectations that with these kind of humanoid figures would not be. not covered.

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