Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Genova, Italy
Abstract: As robots are believed to soon populate human environments, they have received enthusiastic support in the scientific community. Most research aims at designing robots for assisting humans in daily lives, healthcare, or elderly care. However, there is also a less explored way of using robots - robots as tools to understand human cognition. We take this approach in our lab in examining human socio-cognitive mechanisms in interaction. In this talk, I will present the work from our lab where we have examined whether and how social signals, such as gaze contact, initiated by a humanoid robot, influence attentional orienting, social decision making, or cognitive control. Our results showed, both at the behavioral and neural level, that social gaze modulates attention, efficiency in decision making, as well as adaptation to cognitive conflict. In addition, I will present our research related to the question of whether and under what conditions humans treat robots as social partners and intentional agents. A series of studies addressing vicarious sense of agency as well as joint action demonstrate that robots with a human-like shape evoke similar socio-cognitive mechanimsms similar to those that are evoked by other humans. I will discuss these results in a broader context of using robots at the service of psychological research.