Archive for March, 2012

Robots and humans are becoming ever closer as technology increases, and now robots can be used for a form of therapy. Cognitively impaired residents of a not-for-profit nursing home were found to have decreased overall agitation over time after interacting with a robot cat (Libin and Cohen-Mansfield, 2004), similar to interactions with a plush-toy cat and (I assume) also real cats. Whilst the study was impaired due to its small sample size and short length of run-time, it shows us how robots can be used for therapeutic treatment and how they can be perceived as part of the world. People seem to be able to perceive robots as part of the living world, associating their past experiences with animals with robots that imitate the same animal (Libin et al). Whilst a love of real pets led to a higher level of satisfaction from a robotic version of the pet (in this case, the NeCoRo cat), yet a greater experience of real cats led to people saying that the cat “made unnecessary noise”. Here we encounter the uncanny valley.

Massive uncanny valley side note:Essentially, if something artificial becomes too realistic, people will experience negative reactions to it. We realise that it is merely imitating life, not experiencing it. For example, watch the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOqfrM8aiOQ I apologise for it being in Japanese, but its not the language that’s important. The robot does all the right human things, it looks at the person it’s talking to, offers to mike for a response, is making general movement as well but I personally find it just a bit creepy. A giant metal machine that responds to human interaction is fine, its being sold to the masses in the form of the Kinect, but the robot from the video was just a bit off, if it isn’t 100% perfectly human-like, we’ll realise whatever is wrong and it’ll bug us. We won’t be able to view the robot as a human.

Anyway, back to cats. So whilst people with an experience of real life cats found more problems with them than others, what about people who haven’t really had much experience? In another of Libin & Libin’s experiments (2004), the cat was given to two 8 year old girl, who became very emotionally attached to the robot, even creating the idea that the animal had a will that they did not want to push it against when it was required to perform an action that it could not.

It seems that whilst robotic humans are far from being able to breach the uncanny valley and become truly human like¬† it is possible with animals. These interactions seem to be beneficial to development of empathy and relationships with other living creatures, whilst also having a theraputic effect for those suffering from dementia. We use previous experiences of real animals in our interactions with artificial ones, which seems to suggest that we view them as alive and real. There are a lot of ethical points around this, such as “Does an inability to treat anthropomorphised robots well indicate an inability to treat humans well?” as well as whether these robots deserve the same treatment as their real life counter parts. It is certainly an interesting topic and will become more relevant as the technology required for it becomes more and more powerful. If the uncanny valley is ever breached, the psychology of human – robot interactions will be fascinating to study.


http://aja.sagepub.com/content/19/2/111.full.pdf+html Libin and Cohen-Mansfield cognitively impaired residents and NeCoRo interaction

http://www.robotherapy.org/person_robot%20interactions.htm Libin et al NeCoRo cat interaction

http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=1347459&tag=1 Libin & Libin (2004) human-NeCoRo interactions, specifically see the end of the paper for the case studies.

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Auditory hallucinations, also known as a paracusia, is typically known as a symptom of schizophrenia, but can also be attributed to Exploding Head Syndrome (in which the patient hears an incredibly loud noise, such as a gunshot or explosion that does not exist) and sleep paralysis, when the participant is awake but the body is still “asleep”. You may have even had one yourself, just before falling asleep (in a state called hypnagogia).

The hallucinations themselves seem to generally be resistant to drug therapy, yet stimulation of the left temporoparietal cortex by Hoffman, Boutros, Hu, Berman, Krystal and Charney (2000) found that this lessened the severity of the hallucinations. This would make it seem that the left temporoprietal cortex is the origin for auditory hallucinations, the cortex is certainly relevant in people suffering from aphasia.

So we have an origin, and one particular therapy, but just because there is one solution does not mean it is the only solution. Whilst the¬†transcranial magnetic stimulation used in Hoffman et al’s research did work, there was no follow up and so we have to assume that patients would have to be taking this stimulation for the rest of their life, which seems both impractical as it has to be given every day or two days by a professional in order to keep the patient from hallucinating. Another form of treatment for a patient suffering from these hallucinations is that of Cognitive Therapy, which is also effective at combating drug resistant voices. Chadwick and Birchwood (1994) reported ” Large and stable reductions in conviction in these beliefs (of the power of the voices)… and these were associated with reduced distress, increased adaptive behaviour, and unexpectedly, a fall in voice activity” after treating 26 patients suffering from the hallucinations as a symptom of schizophrenia. This seems to be a much better solution to the problem as Cognitive Therapy affects how the person thinks, so they can use the techniques at any time to counter the voices and regain control of themselves. An ideal solution would be the use of both transcranial magnetic stimulation and Cognitive Therapy in order to lessen the strength of the voices and reduce distress to such an extent that the patient could be considered to not suffer from the hallucination, at least, not enough to impede them in leading a normal life.


Pearce JM (1989), “Clinical features of the exploding head syndrome”, Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry

Blackmore, Susan (2003). Consciousness: An Introduction – Sleep paralysis and auditory hallucinations

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673600020432 Hoffman, Boutros, Hu, Berman, Krystal and Charney

http://archneur.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/47/11/1235E. Metter, Hanson, Jackson, Kempler, Lancker, Mazziotta, Phelps,. Aphasia and the left temporoparietal cortex

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/164/2/190.short Chadwick and Birchwood

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