Email Print Share

"Unreasonable Facsimile" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

Princeton University researchers have come up with a new twist on the mysterious visual phenomenon experienced by humans known as the "uncanny valley." That twist is that monkeys experience the same exact feeling. The uncanny valley describes that disquieting feeling that occurs when viewers look at representations designed to be as human-like as possible.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Unreasonable Facsimile.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

There's an interesting phenomenon that occurs when humans look at a representation of a human designed to be as human-like as possible -- revulsion. (SOUND EFFECT: cartoon music) in other words, we can look at a distorted caricature or cartoon human, and we're ok. But come close to an almost true representation -- a computer animation or an android -- and it creeps us out a little.

The effect was brought to light some 30 years ago, and was termed, "the uncanny valley" by a Japanese researcher. It deals with a brain reaction we experience seeing a human form that's both realistic and unrealistic at the same time.

Recent Princeton research theorizes that there may be an evolutionary or biological reason for this reaction and that it isn't necessarily a humans-only thing. In a study with macaque monkeys, the team discovered that they too experience the uncanny valley. When the monkeys were shown almost-real representations of monkeys, they looked away, or became frightened. (SOUND EFFECT: macaque sounds)

So if there is a built-in biological reason for this -- what is it? Although there are numerous theories, we still don't know.

Have you experienced the uncanny valley?

I imagine it's the same reaction I get when I look at myself in the mirror first thing in the morning.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.