The spooky world of “Ominous Valley”: Exploring the psychology behind our fear of humanoid figures
Have you ever experienced feelings of discomfort or anxiety when looking at a doll, robot, or humanoid model? If so, you may have experienced what is known as the “uncanny valley.” This concept describes the psychological reaction some people have to figures or objects that look very much like people, but exhibit subtle flaws or unrealistic qualities. In this article, we will look at the origin of the uncanny valley, its impact on various fields of endeavor, and various explanations for its effect.
The concept of the “Ominous Valley” was first introduced by Japanese robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970. Mori observed that as the appearance of a character or robot becomes more human-like, our emotional reaction to it becomes more positive and sympathetic. However, there is a point where this positive dynamic is abruptly cut off and the figure falls into a “valley” where it evokes negative and repulsive emotions. Mori argues that this is only a temporary moment. As the appearance of the robot or character becomes more realistic, the positive emotions return and the level of empathy it evokes begins to approach that felt by humans towards each other.
The term “uncanny valley” was first translated into English by Jasia Reichardt in her 1978 book Robotics: Fact, Fiction, and Prediction. Since then, the concept has been widely used in various fields such as robotics, CGI animation, virtual reality, and even prosthetics.
The uncanny valley is significant to various fields as engineers and designers must navigate around it to create humanoid characters, figures, and creations that appeal to users and evoke a positive emotional response. For example, in robotics, researchers have to find ways to make robots more human-like without eliciting negative reactions from users. In CGI animation, animators have to create characters that are realistic enough, but not so realistic that they fall into the “uncanny valley.” In virtual reality, designers have to create environments and avatars that immerse and enthrall the user in the virtual world, but without causing too much annoyance.
There are several explanations for why the “uncanny valley” effect occurs in our minds. One is that non-human entities cause us to react negatively when they become too much like humans. At that point, all non-human traits become more prominent and begin to contradict our normative ideas of what is and is not human, causing us to feel a sense of strangeness.
Another explanation is that the “Ominous Valley” arises from an innate subconscious fear of replacement or annihilation. According to this interpretation, a humanoid creature triggers a fear response in us because it can be interpreted as some kind of doppelganger threatening to replace us in some important role or aspect of our lives. In addition, images of disassembled androids or puppets can conjure up associations with mutilation and injury on the battlefield, a feeling reminiscent of the fear of death.
The uncanny valley is an interesting concept that sheds light on the complex interplay between our perceptions, emotions, and expectations when it comes to humanoid figures. While this phenomenon may seem trivial, it has significant implications for various fields related to the creation of humanoid characters, figures, and creations. Understanding the psychology behind the uncanny valley can help designers and engineers create more appealing and interesting products that evoke a positive emotional response from users.