Chapter 5
Applying Psychological
Plausibility to the
Uncanny Valley
   I     on the uncanny and
aberrant facial expression in human- like virtual characters raised
intriguing questions as to the possible psychological cause of the Uncanny
Valley. e results of an experiment described in the last chapter showed
that the uncanny was found to be strongest in realistic, human- like male
characters with a lack of movement in the upper face including the eyelids,
eyebrows and forehead when compared with male characters with full
facial animation or humans (Tinwell et al., 2011). is eect was particu-
larly strong for characters communicating fear and surprise since with-
out upper facial movement the salience of these emotions was reduced.
Although this work provided guidance as to how the design of characters’
facial expression may be improved to reduce uncanniness across dierent
emotion types, the psychological drivers of the uncanny experience were
still not fully explained. ese results led me to question whether aberrant
facial expression in a character may trigger possible psychological pro-
cesses that underpin the existence of the Uncanny Valley. Furthermore,
what specic personality traits may be perceived in an uncanny character
with a lack of emotional expressivity in the upper face that may evoke a
negative response in the viewer?
100 The Uncanny Valley in Games and Animation
In this chapter, I rst consider possible psychological explanations of
the Uncanny Valley that other researchers have proposed, including a
reminder of death (see, e.g., Mori, 1970/2012), perception of a threat (Kang,
2009), and an inability to empathize with a human- like agent (Misselhorn,
2009). Empathy has been dened as one of the unique qualities that con-
stitute humanness and makes us human (Hogan, 1969). As such, being
human is characterized by the ability to understand the cognitive and
emotive processes of others and show tenderness, compassion and sym-
pathy toward them, especially for the suering or distressed. Given the
importance of empathy in eective social interaction and previous works
that suggest potential psychological explanations of uncanniness, I began
to formulate a new hypothesis as an explanation for experience of the
uncanny in human- like virtual characters. My hypothesis was based on
a potential perception of psychopathic traits in a character and a lack of
empathy in that character toward us (Tinwell, Abdel- Nabi and Charlton,
2013). To test this, in 2013 I conducted an experiment with psychologists
Dr.Deborah Abdel- Nabi and Dr.John Charlton at the University of Bolton
to explore which antisocial negative personality traits may be associated
with uncanny human- like characters with aberrant facial expression and
if a perception of psychopathy may be directly related to uncanniness. As
well as considering the role of empathy in social interaction and specic
physiognomic markers that signal a lack of empathy in an individual, this
chapter provides an overview of the design, results and conclusions drawn
from that empirical study. is previous study just focused on actors
and videos of human- like video game characters within the age group of
young adults. erefore, in this chapter I also expand on how a perception
of antisocial traits may aect characters intended to be perceived as empa-
thetic of diering age groups in both animation and games. Last, I discuss
how negative neurotic personality traits not associated with psychopathy
may actually increase one’s anity toward the character, as one perceives
them as more human and less of a controlled automaton.
In his original paper, Mori (1970/2012) theorized that we are equipped
with the ability to experience the uncanny as an alert to possible proximal
danger. In other words, it serves as a function to warn us of danger in close
proximity rather than more distant sources of danger such as storms and
hazardous weather.

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