Empathy & Robots


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. While robots are not capable of experiencing emotions in the same way that humans do, it is possible to design and program them to exhibit empathetic behaviors.

There are several ways in which robots can be made to be empathetic:

  1. Natural language processing: Robots can be programmed to understand and respond to natural language input, allowing them to communicate with humans in a more natural and intuitive way. By using natural language processing (NLP) algorithms, robots can identify and respond to emotional cues in human speech, such as tone, inflection, and word choice.
  2. Facial recognition: Robots can be equipped with cameras and facial recognition software to detect and interpret human facial expressions. This can allow robots to recognize and respond to emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and surprise.
  3. Social cues: Robots can be programmed to respond to social cues, such as body language and posture, to better understand and respond to human emotions. For example, a robot might be programmed to recognize and respond to a person crossing their arms, which could indicate that the person is feeling closed off or defensive.
  4. Emotional responses: Robots can be programmed to exhibit emotional responses of their own, such as using a soft and soothing tone of voice when a person is upset or using a more energetic and enthusiastic tone when a person is happy. This can help robots to better connect with and respond to human emotions.


See also:

Anthropomorphism & Robots | Chatbots & Easter EggsUncanny Valley

How anthropomorphism affects empathy toward robots
LD Riek, TC Rabinowitch, B Chakrabarti… – … on Human robot …, 2009 – dl.acm.org
Abstract A long-standing question within the robotics community is about the degree of human-likeness robots ought to have when interacting with humans. We explore an unexamined aspect of this problem: how people empathize with robots along the

Socially Assistive Robots: The Link between Personality, Empathy, Physiological Signals, and Task Performance.
A Tapus, MJ Mataric – AAAI spring symposium: emotion, personality …, 2008 – ocs.aaai.org
Abstract This paper describes a hands-off socially assistive therapist robot designed for monitoring, assisting, encouraging, and socially interacting with users engaged in rehabilitation exercises. We investigate the role of the robot’s personality, empathy, and

Effects of (in) accurate empathy and situational valence on attitudes towards robots
H Cramer, J Goddijn, B Wielinga… – Human-Robot …, 2010 – ieeexplore.ieee.org
Abstract: Empathy has great potential in human-robot interaction. However, the challenging nature of assessing the user’s emotional state points to the importance of also understanding the effects of empathic behaviours incongruent with users’ affective

The influence of empathy in human–robot relations
I Leite, A Pereira, S Mascarenhas, C Martinho… – International journal of …, 2013 – Elsevier
The idea of robotic companions capable of establishing meaningful relationships with humans remains far from being accomplished. To achieve this, robots must interact with people in natural ways, employing social mechanisms that people use while interacting with

What makes people empathize with an emotional robot?: The impact of agency and physical embodiment on human empathy for a robot
SS Kwak, Y Kim, E Kim, C Shin, K Cho – RO-MAN, 2013 IEEE, 2013 – ieeexplore.ieee.org
Abstract: As empathy is important for the emotional interaction between a human and a robot, the design factors which induce human empathy toward robots need to be explored. Human empathy toward a robot can be affected by the presence of a robot. Thus, we

Making social robots more attractive: the effects of voice pitch, humor and empathy
A Niculescu, B van Dijk, A Nijholt, H Li… – International journal of …, 2013 – Springer
Abstract In this paper we explore how simple auditory/verbal features of the spoken language, such as voice characteristics (pitch) and language cues (empathy/humor expression) influence the quality of interaction with a social robot receptionist. For our

Using empathy to improve human-robot relationships
A Pereira, I Leite, S Mascarenhas, C Martinho… – … on Human-Robot …, 2010 – Springer
Abstract For robots to become our personal companions in the future, they need to know how to socially interact with us. One defining characteristic of human social behaviour is empathy. In this paper, we present a robot that acts as a social companion expressing

Investigations on empathy towards humans and robots using fMRI
AM Rosenthal-Von Der Pütten, FP Schulte… – Computers in Human …, 2014 – Elsevier
Abstract Although robots are starting to enter into our professional and private lives, little is known about the emotional effects they elicit. In line with the Media Equation, humans may react towards robots as they do towards humans, making it all the more important to carefully

Real-time empathy: Facial mimicry on a robot
LD Riek, P Robinson – Workshop on Affective Interaction …, 2008 – pdfs.semanticscholar.org
ABSTRACT Expressing empathy is a key component of human social communication. One common way people convey empathy is via facial expression mirroring. It may be helpful for machines intended to interact with people to also convey empathy in this manner. We have

Neural correlates of empathy towards robots
AM Rosenthal-von der Pütten, FP Schulte… – … on Human-robot …, 2013 – dl.acm.org
Abstract We conducted an fMRI study to investigate emotionality in human-robot interaction. Subjects (N= 14) were presented videos showing a human, a robot and an unanimated object, being treated in either an affectionate or a violent way. Violent interaction towards

Poor thing! would you feel sorry for a simulated robot?: A comparison of empathy toward a physical and a simulated robot
SH Seo, D Geiskkovitch, M Nakane, C King… – … on Human-Robot …, 2015 – dl.acm.org
Abstract In designing and evaluating human-robot interactions and interfaces, researchers often use a simulated robot due to the high cost of robots and time required to program them. However, it is important to consider how interaction with a simulated robot differs from a real

Artificial companions: Empathy and vulnerability mirroring in human-robot relations
M Coeckelbergh – Studies in ethics, law, and technology, 2010 – degruyter.com
Abstract Under what conditions can robots become companions and what are the ethical issues that might arise in human-robot companionship relations? I argue that the possibility and future of robots as companions depends (among other things) on the robot’s capacity to

Measuring empathy for human and robot hand pain using electroencephalography
Y Suzuki, L Galli, A Ikeda, S Itakura, M Kitazaki – Scientific reports, 2015 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Abstract This study provides the first physiological evidence of humans’ ability to empathize with robot pain and highlights the difference in empathy for humans and robots. We performed electroencephalography in 15 healthy adults who observed either human-or

Empathy between human and robot?
D Jo, J Han, K Chung, S Lee – … international conference on Human-robot …, 2013 – dl.acm.org
Abstract This paper aims at finding the answer to the essential question: Can people perceive a robot’s presence as having a social existence? We attempt to apply a sociological and psychological approach to understand the influence of robot beings, by

The evaluation of empathy, autonomy and touch to inform the design of an environmental monitoring robot
V Evers, A Winterboer, G Pavlin, F Groen – International Conference on …, 2010 – Springer
Abstract This paper reports the application of results from human-social agent interaction experiments to inform the design of a social robot to monitor levels of pollutive gasses in the air. Next to licensed environmental agents and immobile chemical sensors, mobile

Towards human–robot affective co-evolution overcoming oppositions in constructing emotions and empathy
L Damiano, P Dumouchel, H Lehmann – International Journal of Social …, 2015 – Springer
Abstract This article deals with contemporary research aimed at building emotional and empathic robots, and gives an overview of the field focusing on its main characteristics and ongoing transformations. It interprets the latter as precursors to a paradigmatic transition that

An advantage of bipedal humanoid robot on the empathy generation: A neuroimaging study
N Miura, M Sugiura, M Takahashi… – Intelligent Robots …, 2008 – ieeexplore.ieee.org
Abstract: To determine the effect of robotic embodiment on human-robot interaction, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity during the observation of emotionally positive or neutral actions performed by bipedal or wheel-drive

Extending legal protection to social robots: The effects of anthropomorphism, empathy, and violent behavior towards robotic objects
K Darling – 2012 – papers.ssrn.com
Abstract: People tend to anthropomorphize robots that interact with humans on a social level. This Article explores whether projecting emotions onto objects could lead to an extension of limited legal protections to robotic companions, analogous to animal abuse

Empathy and the robot: A neuroanthropological analysis
K Glaskin – Annals of Anthropological Practice, 2012 – Wiley Online Library
Abstract Roboticists developing socially interactive robots seek to design them in such a way that humans will readily anthropomorphize them. For this anthropomorphizing to occur, robots need to display emotion-like responses to elicit empathy from the person, so as to

Empathy and Dyspathy between Man, Android and Robot in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
M Brand – 2013 – lup.lub.lu.se
Abstract We live in an age where science and technology rapidly expand the boundaries of what is possible. One such area is the branch of technology called robotics, which deals with the construction and design of robots. However, as robots become more advanced and

Empathy, compassion and social robots: an approach from Buddhist philosophy
R Barua, S Sramon, M Heerink – philosophy, 2015 – mheerink.home.xs4all.nl
Abstract. In Buddhism, a key aspect of interaction between humans mutually and between humans and other social beings, is empathy. In this paper this concept is defined and applied to different aspects of humanrobot relations as a first step towards Buddhist

Experimental study of empathy and its behavioral indices in human-robot interaction
Y Tsuji, A Tsukamoto, T Uchida, Y Hattori… – Proceedings of the …, 2014 – dl.acm.org
Abstract Similar to relationships between humans, a person desiring to form a good relationship with a robot needs to be able to empathize with it. However, the specific kinds of human-robot interactions that would arouse and enhance empathy for the robot in the user’s

Humor and Empathy: Developing Students’ Empathy through Teaching Robots to Tell English Jokes
SR Wu – Digital Games and Intelligent Toys Based Education …, 2008 – ieeexplore.ieee.org
Abstract: Humor and empathy are two important elements in successful communication, especially for medical professionals. To test the hypothesis that implementing humor in EFL students’ English learning would enhance students’ empathy and English proficiency

Empathy and yawn contagion: can we (humans) catch yawns from robots?
M Obaid, D Kuchenbrandt, C Bartneck – … conference on Human-robot …, 2014 – dl.acm.org
Abstract Empathy plays an important role in the interaction between humans and robots. The contagious effect of yawning is moderated by the degree of social closeness and empathy. We propose to analyse the contagion of yawns as an indicator for empathy. We conducted

Empathy in humanoid robots
MS Gou, V Vouloutsi, K Grechuta, S Lallée… – … on Biomimetic and …, 2014 – Springer
Abstract Humanoid robots should be able to interact with humans in a familiar way since they are going to play a significant role in the future. Thus, it is necessary that Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) is designed in such a way that allows humans to communicate with robots

Making Sense of Empathy with Social Robots
J Redstone – Sociable Robots and the Future of Social Relations …, 2014 – books.google.com
Abstract. Social robots exploit human-like behaviors so that people might form emotional bonds with them. Ostensibly, such bonding is an empathic response on the part of the person toward the robot. However, as philosopher Catrin Misselhorn points out, it’s

Do emotions matter in the ethics of human–robot interaction? Artificial empathy and companion robots
B Baumgaertner, A Weiss – … new frontiers in human–robot …, 2014 – pdfs.semanticscholar.org
Abstract. In this position statement we shall argue that emotions are not directly relevant in the ethics of human-robot interaction, particularly in the context of robot care-givers and human care-receivers. Our argument is based on (1) current theories of emotion and (2)

Magical thinking and empathy towards robots
M Musia? – What Social Robots Can and Should Do: Proceedings …, 2016 – books.google.com
Abstract. This paper aims to understand why human beings develop empathetic attitudes towards robots. Whilst much research studies this issue from the perspective of the natural sciences, by referring to biological features of the human brain, it is also possible to

Conditions of Empathy in Human-Robot Interaction
R Yamazaki – Sociable Robots and the Future of Social Relations …, 2014 – books.google.com
Abstract. The purpose of this paper is to consider the sociality of social robots with the focus on the notion of empathy. Social robots are designed to exploit various biological mechanisms that trigger anthropomorphizing reactions in humans and systems that seem

Empathy between human and home service robots
Q Meng, M Lee – … and Systems Engineering, 2009. CASE 2009 …, 2009 – ieeexplore.ieee.org
Abstract: The rapid growth of elderly population has created a huge increase in demand for home health-care services. Home service robots are expected to play an important role to support elderly people at home to improve their life quality. Unlike industrial robots, home

On electric owls: implicit life-stories of robots and their impact on human empathy
P Nandy – 2016 – dspace.mit.edu
Robots are moving from factories to people’s homes taking on the roles of artificial pets, tutors and companions. If we are to have emotionally engaging robots, we must understand how we can design robots that people feel empathy towards. In this work, I explore one

What is it like to be a robot? Natural empathy, artificial companions, and vulnerability mirroring
M Coeckelbergh – 2010 – doc.utwente.nl
Can robots become companions, and if so, what are the necessary conditions and what are the ethical issues that might arise in human-robot companionship relations? I argue that the possibility and future of robots as companions depends (among other things) on the robot’s

Factors that might affect empathy towards robots
CG Martin – cs.bham.ac.uk
Abstract As the presence of robots increases in our society, interaction between humans and robots becomes more frequent. One key aspect of interaction between humans is empathy. Through empathy one person is able to take the perspective of another which results in

Testing Empathy with Robots: A Model in Four Dimensions and Sixteen Items
S Tisseron, F Tordo, R Baddoura – International Journal of Social Robotics, 2015 – Springer
Abstract The four-dimensional model of empathy presented in this paper addresses human–human, human–avatar and human–robot interaction, and aims at better understanding the specificities of the empathy that humans might develop towards robots. Its first dimension is

Appearance of a Robot Affects the Impact of its Behaviour on Perceived Trustworthiness and Empathy
J Z?otowski, H Sumioka, S Nishio, DF Glas… – Paladyn, Journal of …, 2016 – degruyter.com
Abstract An increasing number of companion robots have started reaching the public in the recent years. These robots vary in their appearance and behavior. Since these two factors can have an impact on lasting human–robot relationships, it is important to understand their

Empathy with Robots? Exploring Emotional Responses to Artificial Entities
CA Basedow – 2016 – d-nb.info
I, Christina Anne Basedow, hereby declare that I have written this PhD thesis independently, unless where clearly stated otherwise. I have used only the sources, the data and the support that I have clearly mentioned. This PhD thesis has not been submitted for conferral

Emulating Empathy For Educational Robots
H Hastie – mi20-hlc.doc.ic.ac.uk
Effective human teachers are able to engage, motivate and empathise with learners. They are able to interpret the aims and intentions of humans based on ability and accumulated background knowledge to help identify contexts and cues from the student behaviour. Part of

Nudging for good: robots and the ethical appropriateness of nurturing empathy and charitable behavior
J Borenstein, RC Arkin – AI & SOCIETY, 2017 – Springer
Abstract An under-examined aspect of human–robot interaction that warrants further exploration is whether robots should be permitted to influence a user’s behavior for that person’s own good. Yet an even more controversial practice could be on the horizon, which

Evolving robot empathy through the generation of artificial pain in an adaptive self-awareness framework for human-robot collaborative tasks
M Anshar – 2017 – opus.lib.uts.edu.au
The application and use of robots in various areas of human life have been growing since the advent of robotics, and as a result, an increasing number of collaboration tasks are taking place. During a collaboration, humans and robots typically interact through a physical

Empathy in Virtual Agents and Robots: A Survey
A Paiva, I Leite, H Boukricha, I Wachsmuth – ACM Transactions on …, 2017 – dl.acm.org
Abstract This article surveys the area of computational empathy, analysing different ways by which artificial agents can simulate and trigger empathy in their interactions with humans. Empathic agents can be seen as agents that have the capacity to place themselves into the

Nudging for good: robots and the ethical appropriateness of nurturing empathy and charitable behavior
B Jason – 2017 – philpapers.org
Abstract An under-examined aspect of human–robot interaction that warrants further exploration is whether robots should be permitted to influence a user’s behavior for that person’s own good. Yet an even more controversial practice could be on the horizon, which

… seems to be the problem?” Batty tersely replies,“Death”. Death is indeed the problem in Blade Runner. The film explores a trio of themes–death, empathy, and what it …
B Gaut – Blade Runner, 2015 – books.google.com
Blade Runner is a dark, death-obsessed film. The replicants have been built to live only four years, and for Batty the problem of death is pressing, since he is near the end of his allotted time. He and five other replicants have returned illegally to Earth to meet their maker and to

Empathy and Vulnerability Mirroring in Human-Robot Relations
Coeckelbergh – Stud. Ethics L. & Tech., 2010 – HeinOnline
Suppose that we started to see some robots not as mere objects, artificial slaves, or instruments for human purposes, but that instead they appeared as more-thanthings, as companions or perhaps as friends or even partners. Imagine, furthermore, that we also

Deceitful Robots: The effects of Non-verbal Empathy and Competence on perceptions of a social robot
MFR Pais – 2012 – fenix.tecnico.ulisboa.pt
Abstract This work presents a pre-study of behavior design and a controlled experiment into the effects of competence and non-verbal empathic behaviors on the attitudes towards robots in a guidance scenario using the NAO robot. The goal of the pre-study was to gain

Adults’ perception of empathy when interacting with a nursing robot or a physically present nurse: A randomized non-inferiority comparison
DR Crain – 2015 – search.proquest.com
Background Nursing presence is an intersubjective connection between the nurse and patient that results in improved patient outcomes. Present day task-oriented healthcare robots possess an evolving capacity to address task-based attributes of nursing care but are

Empathy in Human Robot Interaction
IR Seminar, K Chandran – 2016 – tams.informatik.uni-hamburg.de
… Uses proprietary algorithm. ? Choreographe, a software for a programming Pepper. 22 [11] Page 23. Conclusion ? Standardized Empathy learning Engine for social robots. ? Modality independence. ? Far from a commercially viable empathetic robot. ? Does not consider Limbic

Empathy Experiments in Human-Robot Interaction
K Willaert, L Bleumers – Citeseer
New generations of more human friendly and social robots are developing. Our main research focus is on human-robot interaction: how to ‘humanize’this interaction by fostering an empathic human-robot interaction? In human-human social interaction, the expression of

Competition Robots: Empathy and Identification
Y Sone – Japanese Robot Culture, 2017 – Springer
Abstract Extending discussion of hobbyist participation in robot culture in Japan, this chapter looks into humanoid competitions. These competitions are organised events for purpose-built, small-scale hobby robots: they sprint, play soccer, or fight each other. Focusing on the

Making Sense of Empathy with Sociable Robots: a New look at the “imaginative Perception of Emotion”
J Redstone – Social Robots: Boundaries, Potential, Challenges, 2017 – books.google.com
In the field of social robotics, empathy is somewhat of a “hot topic” for engineers and empirical researchers alike. in this chapter, i examine a philosophical contribution toward making sense of empathy with robots, namely: Misselhorn’s (2009) proposal that empathy

Fake Empathy and Human-Robot Interaction (HRI): A Preliminary Study
J Vallverdú, T Nishida, Y Ohmoto, S Moran… – International Journal of …, 2018 – igi-global.com
Abstract Empathy is a basic emotion trigger for human beings, especially while regulating social relationships and behaviour. The main challenge of this paper is study whether people’s empathic reactions towards robots change depending on previous information

Mechanical Empathy Seems Too Risky. Will Policymakers Transcend Inertia and Choose for Robot Care? The World Needs It
JF Hoorn – Robotics-Legal, Ethical and Socioeconomic Impacts, 2017 – intechopen.com
Abstract An ageing population, increasing longevity and below-replacement fertility increase the care burden worldwide. This comes with age-related diseases such as Alzheimer disease and other dementias, cardiovascular disorders, cancer and—hardly noticed—