Human See, Human Do


We all know the type, the social chamaeleon that is able to detect and subtly imitate the mores of a social target, down to clothing, manner of speaking, and body language.

How susceptible are we to this Byzantine subterfuge?

According to researchers at Stanford and Wired, (which linked to our site from this story, thanks) very much so:

Psychologists and salesmen call it the "chameleon effect": People are perceived as more honest and likeable if they subtly mimic the body language of the person they're speaking with. Now scientists have demonstrated that computers can exploit the same phenomenon, but with greater success and on a larger scale.

Researchers at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab strapped 69 student volunteers into an immersive, 3-D virtual-reality rig, where test subjects found themselves sitting across the table from a "digital agent"- a computer-generated man or woman - programmed to deliver a three-minute pitch advocating a notional university security policy requiring students to carry ID whenever they're on campus.

The anthropomorphic cyberhuckster featured moving lips and blinking eyes on a head that nodded and swayed realistically. But unbeknownst to the test subjects, the head movements weren't random. In half the sessions, the computer was programmed to mimic the student's movements exactly, with a precise four-second delay; if a test subject tilted her head thoughtfully and looked up at a 15-degree angle, the computer would repeat the gesture four seconds later.

For the other half of the participants, the program used head movements recorded from earlier students, ensuring they were realistic but unconnected to the test subject....

And you thought, blissfully, you had seen the last of Max Headroom, the virtual star of the 80's, perhaps to be reborn.

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