Tuesday 24.05.2022 16:00 — 17:00
Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics

From "Swan Lake" to Dancing Robots: Probing the Flexibility of Social Perception

Prof. Emily Cross, University of Glasgow

Prof. Emily Cross, University of Glasgow

Hybrid Lecture by Prof. Emily Cross, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow


As humans, we gather a wide range of information about other agents from watching them move. A network of brain regions has been implicated  in understanding others' actions by means of an automatic matching process that links actions we see others perform with our own motor abilities. Current views of this network assume a matching process biased towards familiar actions; specifically, those performed by conspecifics and present in the observer's motor repertoire. However, emerging work in the field of social neuroscience is raising some interesting challenges to this dominant theoretical perspective. Specifically, recent work has questioned if this system is built for and biased towards familiar human actions, then what happens when we watch or interact with artificial agents, such as robots or avatars? In addition, is it only the similarity between self and others that leads to engagement of brain regions that link action with perception, or do affective or aesthetic evaluations of another’s action also shape this process?  In this talk, I discuss brain imaging and behavioural studies by my team that provide some first answers to these questions. Broadly speaking, our results challenge previous ideas about how we perceive social agents and suggest broader, more flexible processing of agents and actions we may encounter. The implications of these findings are further considered in light of whether motor resonance with robotic agents may facilitate human—robot interaction in the future, and the extent to which motor resonance with performing artists shapes a spectator’s aesthetic experience of a dance or theatre piece.

About the speaker

Professor Emily S. Cross is a cognitive and social neuroscientist who directs the Social Brain in Action research laboratory, based jointly at the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University in Australia.

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