Californian researchers have established that an intimate caress of a humanoid robot can produce a physiological response in a human.

They challenged volunteers with a robotic creature less than two feet high that possessed eyes, ears, torso, legs, arms and a voice – and a chat-up line rich in come-hither invitations. “Sometimes I’ll ask you to touch my body and sometimes I’ll ask you to point to my body,” it told volunteers.

It was found that a touch where the robot’s buttocks or genitals would be produced a measurable response of arousal in the volunteer human, the scientists report.

“Our work shows that robots are a new form of media that is particularly powerful. It shows that people respond to robots in a primitive, social way,” said Jamy Li, a mechanical engineer at Stanford University in California, who led the study. “Social conventions regarding touching someone else’s private parts apply to a robot’s body parts as well. The research has implications for both robot design and the theory of artificial systems.”

The study is one of a series of freshly-published presentations to be made at the 66th annual conference of the International Communication Association in Japan, in June.

And it demonstrates that there is more to a humanoid than just looks: even a touch can provoke a human response.

The ten human volunteers – four female, six male – in the experiment simply responded to commands from the voice of an Aldebaran Robotics Nao robot that had been programmed to tell participants to touch any of 13 parts of its body, using their dominant hand. On the non-dominant hand, the volunteers wore a sensor that measured skin conductance, which is itself an indicator of physiological, and perhaps emotional, arousal.

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