Social Robotics and Neuroscience: A Mutually Beneficial Joining of Forces


Professor of Cognitive Science , UC San Diego


Our social world has changed dramatically in recent years, introducing us to new environments and social agents considerably different from those we have evolved with. In particular, advances in technology enable us to create social robots for a range of domains such as entertainment, retail, education, medicine, and assistive technology. For these endeavours to succeed, we need to develop robots that are acceptable as social partners, with appropriate natural ways for them to interact with humans, possibly even to elicit trust and empathy. However, little is known about human social cognition in these new contexts. Humans are highly social primates and significant progress has been made in cognitive and social neuroscience towards understanding how we perceive, respond to, and interact with others. We suggest interdisciplinary collaboration is the most fruitful way to proceed in advancing robotics on one hand, and cognitive science and neuroscience on the other. This approach would be beneficial to both disciplines and can be viewed as a win-win. Not only can we inform the design of new agents by incorporating findings, methods and theory from cognitive and social neuroscience, but collaborative studies with social robotics can improve our understanding of how the human brain enables some of our most important skills such as action understanding, social cognition, empathy, and communication. Our vision is twofold: to use artificial agents as an opportunity to understand perceptual, cognitive and neural mechanisms that support social cognition; and to use neuroscience to help develop “neuroergonomic” agents that are well adapted to their application domains, and the brains of their users.


Ayse P. Saygin is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science and Neurosciences at the University of California San Diego. She received a PhD in Cognitive Science from UC San Diego, followed by a European Commission Marie Curie fellowship at the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience and Wellcome Trust Centre for Functional Neuroimaging at University College London. She holds an MSc. in Computer Engineering and Information Science, and a BSc. in Mathematics. Dr. Saygin directs the Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology Lab, which is affiliated with the Department of Cognitive Science, Neurosciences Graduate Program, Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, Institute for Neural Computation, Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, and the Qualcomm Institute. Dr. Saygin, her students, and her collaborators explore human perception and cognition using a range of experimental and computational methods, including an interdisciplinary line of research on human perception of humanoid robots.