The Geppetto’s dilemma: social sense of agency and artificial agents

Pascolini, Luca (2021) The Geppetto’s dilemma: social sense of agency and artificial agents. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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The experience of controlling the outcomes produced by our actions is known as sense of agency. During social interaction, fundamental importance is given to monitoring actions performed towards other people, and determining whether an environmental outcome is resulted from our actions or someone else’s. If we cause an outcome in the environment, our perception of the time elapsed between our action and the outcome produced will be compressed. This phenomenon has been defined “temporal binding” and has been widely accepted as implicit evidence of the sense of agency. Using a temporal binding paradigm, Experiments 1-3 show evidence for an implicit sense of agency emerging in participants that executed an indirect social action (i.e., a vocal command). Furthermore, data provide evidence that a temporal binding effect can be generated when observing physical and social actions performed by other people, but only if visual access to their actions is allowed.

Given that temporal binding emerges when we observe other humans, the question arises whether such effects are limited to human agents alone. Experiments 4-5 deployed the same temporal binding paradigm to assess subjective time compression experienced in relation to robot-generated actions. Findings suggest that temporal compression was experienced for robotic actions only when the robot was perceived to be independent from human control. Furthermore, experiencing the robot as independent led participants to confer it a higher degree of mental representation, and they were more likely to refer to its components adopting human terms.

Experiments 6-7 adopted a spatial alignment paradigm to investigate the contribution of bodily and mental representation towards action representation of other agents. The results of these experiments indicated that humanoid appearance was not a crucial feature to enable action representation. However, data suggests that action representation for other agents may involve higher level mechanisms, such as explicit belief and joint action representation. This thesis combines novel findings with previous scientific literature to expand current cognitive models of agency and action representation, where the perception of mental activity of other agents gains higher relevance compared to their physical appearance.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 20 Dec 2021 10:24
Last Modified: 20 Dec 2021 10:24


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