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See Inside January / February 2011

What's That Robot Looking At?

Babies will follow the gaze of social robots just as they do with people

Starting at 12 months old, infants follow the gaze of others—an instinctive behavior that allows them to learn from observation. But will they track just anyone’s eyes? In a recent study published in Neural Networks, University of Washington psychologist Andrew Meltzoff tested whether infants would fol­low the gaze of a humanoid robot. One group of 18-month-olds observed an experimenter play a mimicry game with a mobile robot, whereas another group of babies got to know the same robot as it remained completely stationary. Thirteen of the 16 babies who observed human-robot interaction later followed the robot’s gaze as it turned toward a toy, compared with only three of the 16 babies who observed no robot playtime. Infants, it seems, are highly attuned to social information, which they use to constantly update their perception of others—even to change a hunk of metal into a thinking being.

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