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Virtual partner created for ’emotional’ Turing test

Fri 20 May 2016

Scientists from Florida Atlantic University have created a virtual partner to conduct an ‘emotional’ Turing test, designed to test the emotional response that can be elicited from a human by a machine. They found that emotion and motion are tied to one another, and that emotion and social coordination work together to facilitate social exchange. They also found that emotional response can be elicited from a subject using nothing more than coordinated hand movement.

Researchers from the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences (CCSBS) from Florida Atlantic University designed a virtual partner for the experiment, with behavior dictated by mathematical models of human interactions, to allow humans to interact with a mathematically-derived version of their social selves.

The model did not incorporate a face, or a voice – commonly thought to be of primary importance in communicating emotions. Instead, the virtual partner consisted of a model of a human hand on a screen. The model received input from the human partner and moved; the human partner coordinated their own movements with the image on the screen.

The researchers found that hand movements alone were enough to elicit emotional responses from the human partner. “The behaviors that gave rise to that distinctive emotional arousal were simple finger movements, not events like facial expressions for example, known to convey emotion,” said Emmanuelle Tognoli, Ph.D., co-author and associate research professor in FAU’s CCSBS. “So the findings are rather startling at first.”

The key, she went on, was not in the emotion expressed by the virtual partner. Rather, it was the virtual partner’s competence in social coordination – how well it relates its behavior to the human partner’s behavior – that drives the emotional response in the human.

The virtual partner used in this experiment forms part of FAU’s Human Dynamic Clamp, the state of the art human-machine interface developed by CCSBS. They key idea behind the Human Dynamic Clamp, according to CCSBS founder J.A. Scott Kelso, is the fact that humans and machines are governed by the same laws of coordination dynamics, who called it“a step forward for investigations aimed at understanding complex social behavior.”

Because, according to the study, emotion and behavioral interaction operate in a feedback loop, researchers believe that coordination of movement could be extremely helpful in treating disorders such as schizophrenia, or autism spectrum, where movement coordination and social and emotional dysfunctions are often present simultaneously.

Also see: Treating schizophrenia with virtual reality and robots


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