A Naturalistic Dynamic Monkey Head Avatar Elicits Species-Typical Reactions and Overcomes the Uncanny Valley
Research on social perception in monkeys may benefit from standardized, controllable, and ethologically valid renditions of conspecifics offered by monkey avatars. However, previous work has cautioned that monkeys, like humans, show an adverse reaction toward realistic synthetic stimuli, known as the “uncanny valley” effect. We developed an improved naturalistic rhesus monkey face avatar capable of producing facial expressions (fear grin, lip smack and threat), animated by motion capture data of real monkeys. For validation, we additionally created decreasingly naturalistic avatar variants. Eight rhesus macaques were tested on the various videos and avoided looking at less naturalistic avatar variants, but not at the most naturalistic or the most unnaturalistic avatar, indicating an uncanny valley effect for the less naturalistic avatar versions. The avoidance was deepened by motion and accompanied by physiological arousal. Only the most naturalistic avatar evoked facial expressions comparable to those toward the real monkey videos. Hence, our findings demonstrate that the uncanny valley reaction in monkeys can be overcome by a highly naturalistic avatar.