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It’s in the Eyes: The Engaging Role of Eye Contact in HRI

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This paper reports a study where we examined how a humanoid robot was evaluated by users, dependent on established eye contact. In two experiments, the robot was programmed to either establish eye contact with the user, or to look elsewhere. Across the experiments, we altered the level of predictiveness of the robot’s gaze direction with respect to a subsequent target stimulus (in Exp.1 the gaze direction was non-predictive, in Exp. 2 it was counter-predictive). Results of subjective reports showed that participants were sensitive to eye contact. Moreover, participants felt more engaged with the robot when it established eye contact, and the majority attributed higher degree of human-likeness in the eye contact condition, relative to no eye contact. This was independent of predictiveness of the gaze cue. Our results suggest that establishing eye contact by embodied humanoid robots has a positive impact on perceived socialness of the robot, and on the quality of human–robot interaction (HRI). Therefore, establishing eye contact should be considered in designing robot behaviors for social HRI.

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This Project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (Grant awarded to A. Wykowska, titled “InStance: Intentional Stance for Social Attunement. Grant agreement No: 715058).

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Kompatsiari, K., Ciardo, F., Tikhanoff, V. et al. It’s in the Eyes: The Engaging Role of Eye Contact in HRI. Int J of Soc Robotics 13, 525–535 (2021).

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