Apr 07, 2016 I Paul Seaburn

Humans Get Aroused When Touching Robots in Certain Places

You’d better lock up the Rumba when that dirty old man neighbor comes over and watch your creepy brother-in-law when he picks up a Furby. A new study found that humans can become aroused when they touch robots in their “intimate” areas. Other humans, of course, not you. And no, we don’t mean private areas like the power cord receptacle.

At what will probably be a well-attended seminar at the 66th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association being held in Fukuoka, Japan, on June 9-13 2016, Jamy Li, Wendy Ju, and Byron Reeves from Stanford University will present the results of their study: Touching a Mechanical Body: Tactile Contact With Intimate Parts of a Human-Shaped Robot is Physiologically Arousing.

Study participants (four female, six male) wore an Affectiva Q-Sensor on the fingers of their non-dominant, non-robot-touching hand that measured skin conductance, physiological arousal and reaction times. The Aldebaran Robotics' NAO human-shaped robot (“human-shaped” in the broadest sense and asexual) told the subjects which of 13 parts of its body to touch.


If you can’t wait or you’re not attending the conference this year, here’s what they found. When told to touch areas that people usually do not touch, like the eyes or the buttocks, the participants become emotionally aroused when compared to touching less intimate areas like the hands and neck. And even though it was just a robotish-looking, 2-foot-tall unisex robot, response times showed that the volunteers were more hesitant to touch its “intimate” parts.

Sounds creepy, but Jamy Li says this research will influence how businesses use robots.

Our work shows that robots are a new form of media that is particularly powerful. It shows that people respond to robots in a primitive, social way. Social conventions regarding touching someone else's private parts apply to a robot's body parts as well. This research has implications for both robot design and theory of artificial systems.

If humans get aroused touching the “private parts” of a tiny robot that looks more like a toy, what will happen when they meet a life-sized robot developed by a Hong Kong inventor that looks very much like actress Scarlett Johansson? Will it depend on whether the robot acts like the Black Widow or Annie from The Nanny Diaries?

scarlett 570x380
Ricky Ma and his Scarlett Johansson robot (Hey, where's his hand?)

Coming soon to a tech store near you … face-slapping robots.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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