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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 May 5;371(1693). pii: 20150375. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0375.

Embodied artificial agents for understanding human social cognition.

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Engineering Psychology, Division of Human Work Sciences, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå 97187, Sweden Technische Universität München, Institute for Cognitive Systems, Arcisstraße 21, 80333 München, Germany
Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone, Aix Marseille University-CNRS, Marseille 13005, France.
Technische Universität München, Institute for Cognitive Systems, Arcisstraße 21, 80333 München, Germany.


In this paper, we propose that experimental protocols involving artificial agents, in particular the embodied humanoid robots, provide insightful information regarding social cognitive mechanisms in the human brain. Using artificial agents allows for manipulation and control of various parameters of behaviour, appearance and expressiveness in one of the interaction partners (the artificial agent), and for examining effect of these parameters on the other interaction partner (the human). At the same time, using artificial agents means introducing the presence of artificial, yet human-like, systems into the human social sphere. This allows for testing in a controlled, but ecologically valid, manner human fundamental mechanisms of social cognition both at the behavioural and at the neural level. This paper will review existing literature that reports studies in which artificial embodied agents have been used to study social cognition and will address the question of whether various mechanisms of social cognition (ranging from lower- to higher-order cognitive processes) are evoked by artificial agents to the same extent as by natural agents, humans in particular. Increasing the understanding of how behavioural and neural mechanisms of social cognition respond to artificial anthropomorphic agents provides empirical answers to the conundrum 'What is a social agent?'


artificial agents; humanoid robots; human–robot interaction; social cognition; social interaction

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