Heterosexual men do not show the same gaze behavior toward female-looking robots as they do toward women, even when the robots are human-like in appearance, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology. The findings suggest that seeing a robotic replication of a woman does not activate the same deep-rooted evolutionary psychological mechanisms as seeing a real woman.
“I started my research on digitized sexuality when a conference on sexualized robots in Malaysia was cancelled. This bothered me, as scientific research on many different fields of application within human-robot interaction (e.g., the usage of robots in health or learning settings) is on the rise,” said study author Jessica Szczuka of the University of Duisburg-Essen.
“Many technological advances have been used to fulfil sexual needs and it is therefore important to do scientific research on how this new ‘digitized sexuality’ might influence human sexuality. Empirical data is crucial to ensure a responsible handling of sexualized technologies.”
In the study, 15 heterosexual men, 12 homosexual men, and 18 heterosexual women viewed pictures of female-looking robots and humans as the researchers used an eye-tracking device to record their gaze patterns. Some of the robots were human-like, meaning they had silicone skin and anatomically correct details. Other robots appeared more machine-like, being constructed of white plastic and having a more abstract form.
Regardless of sexual orientation and gender, the participants spent more time looking at the human-like robotic breasts compared to the chest region of the machine-like robots. They also spent more time looking at human heads compared to robotic ones.
Participants tended to spend more time looking at the pelvic regions of robots compared to the pelvic region of women — and the pelvic regions of machine-like robots gained more visual attention than the human-like ones.
The researchers found some gaze patterns specific to heterosexual men, who spent significantly more time looking at the chest region of female humans compared to the female-looking robots. Heterosexual men also looked significantly longer at the pelvic regions of human-like robots than did homosexual men and heterosexual women.
“It can be suggested that these differences in gaze behavior are based on the knowledge that robots are non-living entities, which are therefore not able to provide authentic visual information in terms of their biological and psychological state (e.g., the lacking authenticity of the facial expression). However, robotic stimuli tended to draw attention to salient mechanical body parts (visible in the pelvic area of the machine-like robots), indicating that due to curiosity, there might be a need to visually explore the robotic stimuli more deeply,” the researchers wrote.
Surprisingly, gaze behavior was not associated with attractiveness ratings of the robots, general attitudes toward robots or the tendency to anthropomorphize technology.
“The study shows that robotic replications do not evoke deep-rooted evolutionary psychological processes of mate perception and that authentic visual cues cannot be replicated easily. The human body displays emotions, motivations, but also information of fertility, age or health that are unique to humans and therefore of interest to our species,” Szczuka told PsyPost.
“Longitudinal studies will be crucial in the investigation of digitalized sexuality,” she added. “Especially as humans get used to artificial interaction partners and computer-mediated communication.”
The study, “There’s More to Humanity Than Meets the Eye: Differences in Gaze Behavior Toward Women and Gynoid Robots“, was authored by Jessica M. Szczuka and Nicole C. Krämer.