Triggering social interactions: chimpanzees respond to imitation by a humanoid robot and request responses from it
Even the most rudimentary social cues may evoke affiliative responses in humans and promote social communication and cohesion. The present work tested whether such cues of an agent may also promote communicative interactions in a nonhuman primate species, by examining interaction-promoting behaviours in chimpanzees. Here, chimpanzees were tested during interactions with an interactive humanoid robot, which showed simple bodily movements and sent out calls. The results revealed that chimpanzees exhibited two types of interaction-promoting behaviours during relaxed or playful contexts. First, the chimpanzees showed prolonged active interest when they were imitated by the robot. Second, the subjects requested ‘social’ responses from the robot, i.e. by showing play invitations and offering toys or other objects. This study thus provides evidence that even rudimentary cues of a robotic agent may promote social interactions in chimpanzees, like in humans. Such simple and frequent social interactions most likely provided a foundation for sophisticated forms of affiliative communication to emerge.