Scientific Reports (Jan 2024)

Humanoid facial expressions as a tool to study human behaviour

  • G. Lombardi,
  • A. Sciutti,
  • F. Rea,
  • F. Vannucci,
  • G. Di Cesare

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14, no. 1
pp. 1 – 9


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Abstract Besides action vitality forms, facial expressions represent another fundamental social cue which enables to infer the affective state of others. In the present study, we proposed the iCub robot as an interactive and controllable agent to investigate whether and how different facial expressions, associated to different action vitality forms, could modulate the motor behaviour of participants. To this purpose, we carried out a kinematic experiment in which 18 healthy participants observed video-clips of the iCub robot performing a rude or gentle request with a happy or angry facial expression. After this request, they were asked to grasp an object and pass it towards the iCub robot. Results showed that the iCub facial expressions significantly modulated participants motor response. Particularly, the observation of a happy facial expression, associated to a rude action, decreased specific kinematic parameters such as velocity, acceleration and maximum height of movement. In contrast, the observation of an angry facial expression, associated to a gentle action, increased the same kinematic parameters. Moreover, a behavioural study corroborated these findings, showing that the perception of the same action vitality form was modified when associated to a positive or negative facial expression.