26 December 2007

"Uncanny Valley" phenomenon

What has an brain phenomenon known as the uncanny valley to do with fantasy art? It has a lot.
Fantasy art would not exist without fantasy fans. Fantasy fans, especially the fans of fantasy movies, love creepy human-like creatures and the uncanny feelings they experience when they see those creatures.
For example, the fans of The lord of the Ring films praised especially the character Gollum. Half animal, half human, he made viewer's skin crawl.
To understand why people react in this way to the creation of human-like scary characters and which part of our brain is responsible for the feeling of horror a few scientists from University College London investigated this phenomenon. They discovered by scanning the brains of subjects being show videos of a lifelike robot picking up a cup, as well as the same movement performed by less realistic robot and a person. The results reveal there is a network of neurons in the parietal cortex that was especially active in the case of the lifelike robot. This area of the brain is known to contain 'mirror neurons', which are active when someone imagines performing an action they are observing. While watching all three videos, people imagine picking up the cup themselves. This 'breach of expectation' could trigger extra brain activity and produce the uncanny feelings.
Karl McDorman, who researches human-robot interaction at Indiana University in Indianapolis, suggests that the uncanny valley phenomenon may stem from a 'fear of one's own mortality' and an 'evolved mechanism for avoiding pathogens'. ' The uncanny valley is about a mismatch in human expectations', he says.

Source: New Scientist No 2627


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