Can I Feel Your Pain? The Biological and Socio-Cognitive Factors Shaping People’s Empathy with Social Robots

International Journal of Social Robotics 14 (2):341–355 (2022)
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This paper discuss the phenomenon of empathy in social robotics and is divided into three main parts. Initially, I analyse whether it is correct to use this concept to study and describe people’s reactions to robots. I present arguments in favour of the position that people actually do empathise with robots. I also consider what circumstances shape human empathy with these entities. I propose that two basic classes of such factors be distinguished: biological and socio-cognitive. In my opinion, one of the most important among them is a sense of group membership with robots, as it modulates the empathic responses to representatives of our- and other- groups. The sense of group membership with robots may be co-shaped by socio-cognitive factors such as one’s experience, familiarity with the robot and its history, motivation, accepted ontology, stereotypes or language. Finally, I argue in favour of the formulation of a pragmatic and normative framework for manipulations in the level of empathy in human–robot interactions.

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Joanna Karolina Malinowska
Adam Mickiewicz University


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