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The Grizzly Gazette

The Grizzly Gazette

The “Uncanny Valley”- What is it and Why?

The “uncanny valley” occurs when our minds don’t make the connection to human features and it leaves us unsettled.

The strange and eerie feeling that is almost instantly provoked when exposed to some sort of humanoid entity has a name and an explanation behind it. The exact term for this impact is known as the “Uncanny Valley” and has become a trending topic on TikTok, but this theory has been relevant for a while.

The term is specific to the situation, and there are many who are participating in trends centered around the uncanny valley who tend to miss the mark on the true meaning. The most common misconception is the confusion between images and videos that depict highly realistic, human-like robots and a generally “scary” image that evokes fear.

While this misunderstanding may not seem like a big deal at first, it takes away from the phenomenon as a whole. 

Not every robot becomes trapped in this classification, they are the avatars, androids, and animations that shoot to be perceived as hyperrealistic. At first glance these creations might not spark any discomfort and might even be successful at tricking your mind into believing they are truly human, however, it is with greater examination that the realization that the figure is not “quite human” causes this revulsion. 

It is extremely likely that you have experienced symptoms of the uncanny valley before but didn’t have a name for the feeling. It might occur while watching a CGI animated movie or a videogame where it is clear that the line between “almost” and “actually” shows its importance, especially when referring to humans.

To truly understand the uncanny valley it is important to know its origin and how this odd relationship came to be. Masahiro Mori, a Japanese robotic professor, was the one to coin the expression. The earliest hypothesis that Mori held stated that human’s empathetic and positive emotional responses rise as the appearance of a robot becomes more human-like, until a certain point.

The warm feeling immediately switches to severe revulsion. However, this state does not continue, even if the rate of anthropomorphic features proceeds to increase.

This marks the “valley” aspect of the title, in any other context a valley’s definition is “a low area of land between hills or mountains”. Obviously in this case there are no actual mountains or any land, but just like a real valley, the uncanny valley effect falls in a pit in between two peaks, a clear-to-see character and a living human.

This reaction may confuse some, and many question why this reaction occurs. Unfortunately, there is no official answer to why this reaction almost acts like an instinct. This hasn’t stopped scientists and other curious minds from searching for the cause, and some interesting theories have surfaced.

One factor that is most similar to the believed trigger is that humans are naturally triggered by ambiguity, and this can be seen in the horror film industry. In movies such as “Annabell” and “It”, the antagonist created to scare the audience was designed with an infusion of non-human and human characteristics.

There is also a general disruption of comfort when we are approached with inconsistency and mismatched elements. When elements that we have collectively decided don’t naturally occur together we tend to become somewhat disturbed, research has shown that this occurs when a robot has a “human” voice and vice-versa.

Inconsistency relates to how we have become incredibly skilled with the ability to spot the smallest irregularity in both animated humanoids and robots, the most minor discrepancy can make a character go straight to the uncanny valley when they were once lifelike.

A potential factor that has led to a variety of other conspiracy theories is our survival response. This has been suggested by Mori, he believes that the uncanny valley response is something we’ve evolved to have when encountering potential death and disease threats. The same response that is evoked by witnessing something dead or dying occurs when we are exposed to something that isn’t quite human. 

Now the odd feeling you get when watching “The Polar Express” or those scarily advanced robots talking on TikTok can be somewhat explained! 

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