The Uncanny Valley: Existence, Emotional Components and Possible Explanations Open Access

Wang, Shensheng (2014)

Permanent URL:


As robots gradually resemble humans, they become increasingly familiar to people, until a point at which their subtle imperfections render them uncanny, eliciting the so-called "Uncanny Valley" phenomenon (UVP). In the recent decades, the UVP has become a pressing issue that hinders developing more realistic androids and 3D animations. However, researchers disagree on whether the phenomenon is real or not, and if it is real, how to explain it. Specifically, the uncanny feeling linked to the faces of human replicas remains unexamined from a strictly psychological perspective. We addressed these issues with three studies: In the first study, we conducted a survey in which 62 adult participants were asked to rate the realism of 89 human and android faces and the emotional responses these faces elicited, such as eeriness, disgust and fear. In the second study, we tested another 62 adult participants with a visual looming task (Vagnoni, Lourenco, & Longo, 2012) to implicitly measure the emotional responses to the 89 faces. In the third study, we tested the hypothesis that the uncanny feeling is associated with the sensation of uncertainty (Jentsch, 1906) by conducting a reaction time-based sorting task, in which another 36 adult participants were asked to quickly sort faces as either real or unreal and their reaction time was recorded. In the first two studies, we plotted the emotional responses against the realism and showed that their relation resembled the uncanny valley in their trends and shapes, suggesting the existence of the UVP. The first study also indicated that the UVP may have the emotional components of eeriness and disgust. The third study confirmed the uncertainty hypothesis by showing that the faces that were sorted with uncertainty manifested by longer reaction time were associated with the strongest negative emotional responses. Possible explanations for the results and future directions were proposed.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

The Uncanny experience. 2

Theories on the uncanny valley phenomenon. 3

1. Imperfections in realism. 3

2. Evolutionary/developmental origin. 4

3. Expectancy Violation, Categorical Uncertainty and Bayesian model 6

4. Mind Perception/anthropomorphism.. 8

Defining the uncanny valley phenomenon. 9

Current Studies. 13

Study one. 14

Study two. 21

Study three. 29

Reference. 41

Appendix. 47

About this Master's Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files