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Investigating the attentional consequences of the uncanny valley

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

About the Project

The “uncanny valley” was hypothesed by roboticist Mori in 1970, whereby people would like robots of increasingly human-likeness until they were close to, but not fully human. This project focuses on the uncanny response to artificial hands; people find less human-like prosthetic hands more eerie than more realistic prosthetic hands and clearly artificial mechanical hands (Poliakoff et al., 2013). This has implications for the design of prosthetic, robotic and computer graphics hands. Furthermore, hands play a significant role in social interaction; we are automatically drawn to attend to where someone is pointing. The proposed project investigates whether artificial hands also direct our attention to where they point and how this is influenced by the uncanny valley.

Study 1 will use a reaction time task to compare how people orient their attention to real hands, clearly artificial hands and artificial (prosthetic) hands. This will shed light on how we socially orient in response to artificial hands, but also provides a potential “marker” of the uncanny response. Study 2 will use electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the neurophysiological underpinnings of the attentional and uncanny effects. We will carry out EEG recordings from participants performing the attentional task. We will then compare event related potentials (ERPs) for targets that the hand pointed towards or away from. The results will tell us how our attention is influenced by real and artificial hands and at what stage of cognitive and attentional processes differences emerge. We also plan to look at how these processes are affected in autistic adults, who may respond differently to social cues. Understanding the social-attentional implications of the uncanny phenomenon is timely because of the relevance to the design of prosthetic, robotic and computer-generated hands. Moreover, the project also addresses important fundamental questions about how we respond to human and artificial bodies.

Entry Requirements:
Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a related Psychology, Neuroscience or a related subject area. Candidates with experience in EEG or with an interest in attention are encouraged to apply.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Langton SR, Bruce V (2000) You must see the point: automatic processing of cues to the direction of social attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 26(2), 747.

MacDorman KF, Entezari SO (2015) Individual differences predict sensitivity to the uncanny valley. Interaction Studies, 16, 141 –172

Mori M. The uncanny valley [Bukimi no tani] (K. F. MacDorman & Norri Kageki, Trans.). IEEE Robotics and Automation. 2012; 19: 98-100.

Poliakoff E, O’Kane S, Carefoot O, Kyberd P, Gowen E (2018) Investigating the uncanny valley for prosthetic hands. Prosthetics & Orthotics International. 42, 21-27.

Poliakoff E, Beach N, Best R, Howard T, Gowen E (2013) Can looking at a hand make your skin crawl? Peering into the uncanny valley for hands. Perception, 42, 998-1000.

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