Monkeys in the Uncanny Valley


On Monday, Princeton University evolutionary biologists Shawn Steckinfinger and Asif Ghazanfar published an interesting paper in ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.’ The paper proves that macaque monkeys share a similar discomfort to humans when presented with almost real, 3D representations of themselves.

In their experiment a series of monkeys were presented with 3D images of themselves with increasing realism. Once the images became very real the macaques had a tendency to avert their eyes from the image.

The term ‘uncanny valley’ was first coined by Japanese roboticist Masahito Mori in 1970 when he performed the same experiment on humans. In the human experiment test subjects showed increasing fondness towards the 3D images until they became to real and the subjects became repulsed. Marked on a graph he then went on to name this sudden plummet in affection towards the images as the ‘Uncanny Valley’.

It is theorised that this phenomenon is rooted in a primitive mate seeking or defence system designed to make us avoid sick individuals and unsuitable partners. It has also been suggested that perhaps these realistic representations of us simply look like lifeless corpses. The true reasons still remain unproven but perhaps this recent discovery will give us more insight into this primitive psychological response.

In the past this theory has been put forward as an excuse for the box office failures of 3D movies ‘Beowulf’ and ‘Final Fantasy’.