International Journal of Social Robotics

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 163–180 | Cite as

The Role of Affective Touch in Human-Robot Interaction: Human Intent and Expectations in Touching the Haptic Creature

  • Steve YohananEmail author
  • Karon E. MacLean


Affective touch is a crucial element of early human development, social bonding, and emotional support. Technically and socially difficult to study, it has received little research attention. Our approach employs animal models instantiated by the Haptic Creature, a touch-centric social robot. In this paper, we examine how humans communicate emotional state through touch to the Haptic Creature and their expectations of its reactions. A user study is presented where participants selected and performed gestures they would likely use when conveying nine different emotions to the Haptic Creature. We report a touch dictionary compiled for our research; the gestures participants chose from it; and video analysis of their enactment. Our principal findings regard patterns of gesture use for emotional expression; physical properties of the likely gestures; expectations for the Haptic Creature’s response to mirror the emotion communicated; and analysis of the human’s higher intent in communication. From the latter finding, we present five tentative categories of “intent” that overlap emotion states: protective, comforting, restful, affectionate, and playful. These results can help inform the future design of social robots by illuminating details of one direction in affective touch interactions.


Affective touch Socially interactive robots Affect display Human-robot interaction (HRI) Affect Haptics Emotion Touch Robot pets 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science & Business Media BV 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SPIN Research Group, Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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