Psychological Mystery: Uncanny Valley, Scary Because It’s Too Real


Zombies VS Aliens

As believing I’m not the only one, I feel scared of zombie movies but not of Aliens, Predators, etc. Indeed, all those movies are same in terms that many people are eaten or just killed, though. I had always wondered why that was, and one day, understood the reason when reading an online article about a robot development. The article said Osaka university research team had developed humanoid robots that look exactly like a human being. The robots are well designed and look like us at first glance, but when I saw them move, it soon turned out that they were not human beings. At that time, I felt the same fear as the one I have for zombies.

Uncanny Valley: It’s natural human reactions

I learned later that it was a psychological phenomenon called “Uncanny Valley.” The more objects resemble human beings, the more people feel an affinity for the objects. Right before perfect resemblance in the rising curve of affinity, hoever; there’s a certain range where uncanny feelings are provoked. According to my further research, this stems from one of natural human reactions in neuroscience, called “lateral inhabitation.” We are designed to recognize differences more clearly on the boundary of different things. You can experience this very easily. Line up some color plates (put them together side by side); let’s say some grey color plates different in brightness. On the boundary of the lighter and darker grey plates, you will find the lighter grey look further lighter; the darker further darker.

The CRUST Collection by Raw-Edges

So, we like organic-shaped products

This time, what I’m most interested in is the fact (our nature) that we basically feel an affinity to people. It seems we are too sensitive to small differences sometimes, though. I think the fact also answers to another question: why people like organic-shape products like our furniture, though making such products requires advanced techniques and additional costs. No worries. The arms of our chairs are organic-shaped but not so much smooth and resilient as human arms. You will never feel uncanny to them.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

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