The first of Freud’s examples of the uncanny – a dead, inanimate or mechanical object behaving as if alive – has been examined with respect to robotic behaviour. It has also given rise to the notion of the ‘uncanny valley’. In his essay published in 1970 Masahiro Mori described the phenomenon in which robots (or other automata, including virtual ones) approach a human-like degree of realistic behaviour, causing humans to react not with pleasure (as we might expect) but with revulsion (Mori, 1970).
This effect has also been well documented with respect to some animated films. In the children’s film ‘The Polar Express’, the digitised characters appeared to be modelled paradoxically both too closely and yet not closely enough on real-life actors. Burleigh et al. (2013), discuss how audiences responded with the ‘yuk’ factor and critics detected something ‘unnerving’ and ‘creepily un-life-like’. Similarly, prosthetic limbs which attempt to look life-like trigger a more negative response than those (such as ‘blades’) which make no attempt to disguise their artificial origin.
Burleigh, Schoenherr, & Lacroix (2013). “Does the uncanny valley exist? An empirical test of the relationship between eeriness and the human likeness of digitally created faces” Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 759-771.
Mori, M. “The uncanny valley” (1970). Energy, 7(4), 33–35. (in Japanese).