Sun. Sep 24th, 2023
    Humans Can Feel Empathic Embarrassment for Robots in Embarrassing Situations: Virtual Reality Study

    A new virtual reality study conducted by researchers at Toyohashi University of Technology reveals that humans can experience empathic embarrassment for robots that find themselves in embarrassing situations. The study also suggests that humans have cognitive empathy, the ability to understand and share another’s feelings, for robots that are humiliated.

    The focus of the study was to determine if humans exhibit empathic reactions towards robots in uncomfortable or embarrassing scenarios. Previous research has shown that humans can empathize with the pain of robots, albeit to a lesser extent than with other humans. However, this study delved into the emotion of empathic embarrassment experienced with robots compared to humans.

    Participants in the study were immersed in virtual environments where they observed both human and robot avatars navigating through mildly embarrassing or non-embarrassing situations. The scenarios were designed to induce feelings of discomfort or the sense of making a mistake. The participants’ reactions were measured through subjective ratings on a 7-point Likert scale and physiological measurements of skin conductance responses, an indicator of emotional arousal.

    The results were intriguing, with participants reporting empathic embarrassment and cognitive empathy for both human and robot avatars. These empathic feelings were most pronounced in embarrassing situations, regardless of whether the protagonist was a human or a robot. The researchers also noted that the empathic embarrassment felt by participants was not only a cognitive inference but also experienced as self-embarrassment.

    However, when comparing the responses towards human and robot avatars, the researchers found that cognitive empathy was stronger when the character involved was a human. This suggests that while humans are capable of empathizing with robots, our understanding of their emotions may not be as deep as our understanding of human emotions.

    The findings of this study offer valuable insights into the evolving nature of human-robot relationships. As technology becomes increasingly integrated into our daily lives, understanding the emotional responses we have towards robots is crucial. This research not only sheds light on the boundaries of human empathy but also highlights the potential challenges and benefits of human-robot interactions.


    – Toyohashi University of Technology
    – Scientific Reports