Dolphins, Cartoons, and the "Uncanny Valley"

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posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 02:48 PM
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Have you ever met someone who was creeped out (or even frightened) by dolls or clowns? While most of us may wonder if the hysteria is overblown (others like to tease them for this), this phenomenon is actually something that is being studied by engineers, psychologists, anthropologists, and any number of "ists" in various fields. It's the question of "how do we recognize 'wrongness' in something?" and it seems we share this concept with other species such as dolphins and whales (and dogs and cats and many other things.)

It's called the "Uncanny Valley"

The "uncanny valley" effect occurs when something LOOKS human (or like another species) but is just SLIGHTLY "off." So, while we don't blink at a toy stuffed kitty, a badly stuffed taxidermy model sets off vibes of "that's just wrong", and a taxidermy model that moves sets off a feeling of "That's just REALLY wrong!"

As TvTropes explains it (rather nicely)

For example, most lovable Robot Buddies look humanoid, but keep quirky and artistically mechanical affectations. However, at some point, the likeness would seem too strong, and it would just come across as a very strange human being. At this point, the acceptance drops suddenly, changing to a powerful negative reaction.
source: tvtropes.org...


CGI effects can often have the same effect, which is why moviemakers are very careful in what skins they use and what modifications they make. It wouldn't do to have the audience trigger on a "creepy" feeling when you'd intended "cute and friendly."

The "uncanny valley" point for all of us is an individual thing. Some people are bothered by dolls, some are frightened out by clowns or mimes or things that "sorta" look human. Most of us don't have this reaction but the boundaries vary. So one of the cutting edge fields in science and entertainment is this "uncanny valley" -- in other words, how do we make something acceptable (or creepy, if we're trying to put out a horror film) to people.

Cue the recent stories (mentioned here on ATS) about a disabled dolphinapparently becoming part of a pod of sperm whales -- which is an indication of the "uncanny valley" effect in dolphins. In this case, a deformed dolphin was left without a pod and has apparently joined a pod of whales. The spinal deformity is enough to get it pushed out of the dolphin pod (the "uncanny valley" -- something's wrong with this dolphin) but is not "creepy" enough to the whales that the whales reject the dolphin.

Uncanny Valley studies are critical to developing prosthetics (at what level is your prosthetic hand considered scary or ignorable by the public) and in many other fields.

And this all grew out of an attempt by scientists to find out "what makes something 'cute'"
edit on 29-1-2013 by Byrd because: (no reason given)




posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 02:52 PM
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A great thread on explaining the uninformed to a very strange phenomenon.

The below is a great example.




posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 02:54 PM
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reply to post by Byrd
 


Interesting... so for example we should make all clowns, looks a lot less human(to a point where it is not a human) or we need to make them look more humans, in order to bypass the "Uncanny valley" so we can be empathic with them?

But does everyone feel this? the comfortableness?
edit on 1/29/2013 by luciddream because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 03:14 PM
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Originally posted by luciddream
reply to post by Byrd
 


Interesting... so for example we should make all clowns, looks a lot less human(to a point where it is not a human) or we need to make them look more humans, in order to bypass the "Uncanny valley" so we can be empathic with them?


Difficult to say. If you think about it, there are a number of different TYPES of clowns (four, in fact, as found out from a quick googling), from the very elaborate circus clown (with huge wig and huge shoes and elaborate dress) to the fairly simple "Rodeo clown" with makeup and cowboy clothes.

A friend of mine did a variation of the "hobo clown" for his "drunken magician" act at a haunted house (I worked there as a psychic.) Although people occasionally shied away from him, he didn't seem to evoke the kind of alarm that the "Auguste clown" (see link above) does.


But does everyone feel this? the comfortableness?
edit on 1/29/2013 by luciddream because: (no reason given)


No. I had no problems with the clowns, and they had a lot of fun scaring people. However, I have seen people who were truly terrified of them or of clown dolls.



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 03:17 PM
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reply to post by inivux
 


A very good example.

Note that the "uncanny valley" effect may also be what cues us to problems in people we know very well -- an example would be the case where someone has had a "mini-stroke." This is not enough to cause impairment but does cause a slight change in expression or balance or movement and it's enough for their spouse or companion to say "there's something wrong with them."



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 03:37 PM
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Of course, it goes the other way as well. Faces which are generally deemed attractive, almost always have a certain "perfect" ratio of one feature to another. If I remember correctly, the ration was determined to correspond to the Golden Mean.

Good thread OP.



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 04:21 PM
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reply to post by Byrd
 


I am extreamly afraid of circus clowns, I mean I have a deep sincere fear of them. I have never heard of this affect before,it's nice to finally have an idea of why im afraid of circus clowns.
Thanks for the info.





posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 05:26 PM
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Originally posted by Lichter daraus
reply to post by Byrd
 


I am extreamly afraid of circus clowns, I mean I have a deep sincere fear of them. I have never heard of this affect before,it's nice to finally have an idea of why im afraid of circus clowns.
Thanks for the info.




Clowns are the most obvious example, but dolls also fall into this same category, as do robots and prosthetic limbs.

Since I haven't talked with anyone about this, is it just circus clowns (the Auguste clown or mime-type clown), or do clowns like the traditional Perrot or Emmet Kelley hobo clowns bother you? What about makeup jobs (such as the cast of "Cats"?)



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 05:43 PM
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reply to post by Byrd
 


Well, for me its just the circus clowns.
yes, porcelain dolls also creep me out.
edit on 07/16/2009 by Lichter daraus because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 29 2013 @ 10:47 PM
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Originally posted by Byrd
The "uncanny valley" point for all of us is an individual thing. Some people are bothered by dolls, some are frightened out by clowns or mimes or things that "sorta" look human.
Dolls and clowns don't bother me.

But I think I have a particular "uncanny valley", when facial asymmetry exceeds certain levels. Here is an article about celebrities with asymmetrical faces who are considered attractive:

beautiful asymmetrical faces of celebrities
Some of them do look attractive to me, but this one creeps me out, if the eye is too much higher on one side:



Since it says she's considered attractive and not creepy, I understand this "uncanny valley" for me is probably personal and not common to everyone. Or does anybody else find this creepy instead of attractive?



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 01:33 AM
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reply to post by Arbitrageur
 


I think that different people have different nuances that they find "creepy" though there probably is some condition that we would all find creepy -- for example -- if a person we knew was really dead stood up and started walking. Not "zombie movie dead" but someone we knew was really deceased.

And here, I think culture shapes the Uncanny Valley.

Zombie movies and alien movies were at one time very terrifying -- some of the flicks today that have a mild r-rating would have had audiences running out of the theater or throwing up if they'd been shown in the 40's or 50's. I don't think it completely does away with the impact but it does change how sensitive we are to some things.



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 01:39 AM
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I find clowns to be disturbing. Very disturbing. It's the Auguste ones, the others don't bother me.

When IT came out, I told the old lady "THAT is what I see when I look at Bozo or Ronald McDonald - it's some sort of creepy monster that's waiting for you to turn your back on it". I might add the recent "burger king" affected me the same way. I didn't like BK to begin with, having eaten a wad of it on base didn't help, but BK King ads don't make me want to go there. At all.

edit to add: on the other hand, Downies don't affect me negatively, and they've got minor facial distortion. Is it because they're rounder and thus trigger a baby face response?
edit on 30-1-2013 by Bedlam because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 02:05 AM
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Props to whoever made the connection between the uncanny valley and the recent dolphin/sperm whale story. Was that you Byrd? I didn't see the connection mentioned in the article. Anyway it's definitely something to think about.

To me the uncanny valley is a curious blend of similarity and distinctiveness. It seems like paranoia factors in somehow with those who fear/shun the uncannies. Maybe in the case of dolphins there was an instinctive decision to shun the deformed so that it would not reproduce the deformity.



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 06:04 AM
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reply to post by Byrd
 

I saw a video on the history of electricity which described the incident preceding Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", where people connected an electric source to a corpse which was lying down, and the corpse suddenly sat up, and then Mary Shelley wrote her book.

Just hearing about that episode sent chills down my spine, so I guess I haven't been desensitized enough by zombie movies...they all seem so fake to me I can only laugh at them...but the real corpse suddenly sitting up was really creepy.


Originally posted by circlemaker
Maybe in the case of dolphins there was an instinctive decision to shun the deformed so that it would not reproduce the deformity.
I wondered the same thing...so it sounds like a good guess to me.
edit on 30-1-2013 by Arbitrageur because: clarification



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 06:47 AM
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Liking the thread
just two weeks ago i tried to explain the theory of Uncanny Valley to TheDailyMail (don't laugh) people but no such luck. There was an article about an expensive painting of the British princess Kate and the whole of United Kingdom united in disliking the painting, calling the painter a fraud, saying how Kate seems 20 years older&uglier etc.

In reality, it was an extremely realistic painting with all of her pores and wrinkles visible, her asymmetric eyebrows and lips and so on. Just a perfect example of people being creeped out by extreme similarity and i felt bad for the artist who really did a great job. I even heard they are making petitions and trying to ruin his entire carrier because of this.

You can see the painting here
edit on 30-1-2013 by Exitt because: .



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 01:41 PM
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reply to post by Bedlam
 


The Burger King "huge head on a person" was something that really repelled me, now that you mention it. I hadn't associated it with my own "Uncanny Valley", but you've hit the nail on the head there. What surprised me is that the figure stayed around as their mascot for so long.

I found an interesting article on the BK mascot on our old favorite research site, Wikipedia. It seems we weren't the only one creeped out by that mask, either. What was interesting is that the company actually LIKED the reaction.



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 01:45 PM
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Originally posted by circlemaker
Props to whoever made the connection between the uncanny valley and the recent dolphin/sperm whale story. Was that you Byrd? I didn't see the connection mentioned in the article. Anyway it's definitely something to think about.

Yes, that was me. It occurred to me because of a similar story that a friend (who's also in a PhD program and who's another polymath) linked to and then brought up the idea of the Uncanny Valley. We discussed it briefly in conjunction with biology and wondering how this mechanism worked in animals... in other words, why duck decoys work on ducks and why scarecrows don't really work on crows.


To me the uncanny valley is a curious blend of similarity and distinctiveness. It seems like paranoia factors in somehow with those who fear/shun the uncannies. Maybe in the case of dolphins there was an instinctive decision to shun the deformed so that it would not reproduce the deformity.

I'd tend to go along with the idea that it's somewhat "hard wired" into each species at some level. It enables us to recognize healthy potential mates and avoid individuals that may pose a danger to us.

Since it's an emerging study, a lot of interesting questions and speculations can be set up about this.



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 01:49 PM
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reply to post by Exitt
 


I really liked the "Kate" portrait... which does bring up another thought that I have not looked into about the "uncanny valley" -- does the *expectation* affect the position of the valley?

In other words, if they had been told "this is a portrait of an executive's wife," would there have been so many howls?

I think the association that "this is a member of the royal family" may set an expectation of how she is supposed to be presented in formal portraits (perhaps in a chair, with drapes and a dog or something.) But I haven't looked into that. I think you may be correct, though, that some factor of the "uncanny valley" may be to blame for the public reaction.



posted on Jan, 30 2013 @ 02:52 PM
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reply to post by Byrd
 


Lack of symmetry is a known indication of genetically issues, in case of facial expressions it can even indicate a mental problem.

At least humans are pattern driven in audio and visual spectrum we try to extrapolate patters from everything...

Leading to things like this...






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