Uncanny Valley

Team English - Examples.com
Created by: Team English - Examples.com, Last Updated: June 25, 2024

Uncanny Valley

The term “Uncanny Valley” strikes a chord with our deepest unease, suggesting a realm where familiarity and strangeness converge. This concept, pivotal in robotics and animation, refers to the eerie sensation people often feel when humanoid objects closely resemble humans, yet miss the mark in crucial, subtle ways. Why does this phenomenon provoke discomfort, and what implications does it have for our interaction with increasingly lifelike technology? Join us as we unravel the psychological and ethical dimensions of the uncanny valley, shedding light on its impact across various fields.

What Is Uncanny Valley?

The uncanny valley is a phenomenon that occurs when a person views something that closely resembles a human being. A person often feels uncomfortable when viewing something that has human characteristics and an uncanny resemblance to something human-like. This often leads the person to find objects that exhibit an uncanny valley feeling to be creepy, which is heavily utilized in the horror genre.

Examples of Uncanny Valley

Humanoid Robots

  • Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Geminoids: These robots are designed to look and act like their human counterparts, including replicating facial expressions and speech. The lifelike appearance, combined with slightly off movements or expressions, can evoke feelings typical of the uncanny valley.

Animated Characters and CGI

  • Polar Express (2004): This film used motion capture technology to animate its characters, which many viewers found unsettling due to their life-like yet simultaneously lifeless facial expressions.
  • Beowulf (2007): Similar to Polar Express, the use of advanced animation to create human-like characters resulted in a somewhat disturbing viewer experience due to the characters’ almost-real appearance.

Video Games

  • LA Noire (2011): This game was praised for its realistic facial animation technology, but it also left some players feeling uneasy because of the hyper-realistic face scans on characters, which still lacked some natural nuances in expression.

Further Humanoid Robots

  • Sophia the Robot: Developed by Hanson Robotics, Sophia is known for her human-like appearance and behavior. Despite her advanced interaction capabilities, her expressions and movements can still feel eerily unnatural to some observers.

Animated Characters and CGI

  • Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001): This early attempt at creating photorealistic human characters in a feature film was noted for its high-quality graphics but criticized for the lifeless expressions of its characters, which disturbed some viewers.
  • Cats (2019): The film adaptation of the famous musical used CGI to create human-cat hybrids, which many found unsettling due to their strange, uncanny appearance that mixed human faces and feline features.

Video Games

  • Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017): Upon its release, the game received attention for its awkward facial animations and character movements, which detracted from the realism and immersion, evoking the uncanny valley effect.
  • Resident Evil: Code Veronica: This game featured early 3D character models that aimed for realism but ended up in the uncanny valley due to stiff animations and unnatural facial expressions, making the characters appear both eerie and artificial.

Wax Figures

  • Madame Tussauds’ Wax Figures: While many wax figures at Madame Tussauds are impressively lifelike, some can fall into the uncanny valley when they mimic well-known faces with almost, but not quite, perfect accuracy, leading to a disconcerting experience for visitors.

Further Animated Characters and CGI

  • Avatar (2009): Although praised for its groundbreaking visuals, some viewers felt discomfort with the Na’vi characters. Their human-like features combined with alien attributes created an unsettling mix that approached the uncanny valley for some audience members.
  • Tintin (2011): “The Adventures of Tintin” used motion capture to create highly detailed and expressive characters. However, the almost-but-not-quite human appearance of the characters caused an uncanny feeling among some viewers, due to their exaggerated yet lifelike animations.


  • Asimo by Honda: This humanoid robot, designed to assist with daily tasks, is known for its bipedal movement and ability to navigate environments. Despite its helpful design, Asimo’s human-like movements paired with its robot-like appearance can trigger uncanny valley sensations, as it closely imitates human motion but lacks other human-like features.

Examples of Uncanny Valley in Movies

  1. “The Polar Express” (2004) – The CGI animation style, especially the human characters’ eerily lifelike eyes and expressions, caused discomfort among viewers.
  2. “Beowulf” (2007) – This film utilized motion capture technology, which resulted in hyper-realistic animations of characters that many found unsettling.
  3. “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” (2001) – One of the first attempts at creating photorealistic human characters in animation, resulting in a mixed reaction due to their life-like yet odd appearance.
  4. “Cats” (2019) – The use of digital fur technology to create human-cat hybrids was widely criticized for being disconcerting and strange.
  5. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) – The digital resurrection of actor Peter Cushing to reprise his role as Moff Tarkin was both impressive and unsettling for many viewers.

Examples of Uncanny Valley in Real Life

  1. Sophia the Robot – A humanoid robot known for her lifelike appearance and expressions which some find deeply unsettling.
  2. RealDoll – These highly realistic silicone dolls intended for companionship evoke a sense of unease because of their human-like features yet inanimate nature.
  3. Actroid – A type of android developed in Japan that mimics human gestures and facial expressions closely, causing discomfort in some interactions.
  4. BINA48 – A robotic head-and-shoulders replica of a real person, designed to mimic thought and emotion processes in a way that can be disturbing due to its realism.
  5. Telenoid – A minimalistic humanoid telecommunication robot with stubby arms and a face, which is intended to appear both male and female, young and old, but its vague human features make it eerily disconcerting.

Examples of Uncanny Valley in Makeup

  1. Zombie Makeup – Hyper-realistic zombie makeup in films and television, especially when applied with prosthetics, can be unsettlingly lifelike.
  2. Drag Makeup – Although often vibrant and exaggerated, certain styles of drag makeup aim to transform features so drastically that they can provoke an uncanny sensation.
  3. Aging Makeup – When actors are made to look much older than they are, especially if the makeup is very detailed, it can create an eerie effect.
  4. Character Recreations – Makeup that meticulously recreates the features of well-known cartoon characters or icons on a real human face, leading to a bizarre blend of familiar and unfamiliar traits.
  5. Ultra Realistic Prosthetics – Use of prosthetics to create injuries, deformities, or other conditions can be so lifelike that they cross into the uncanny valley.

How to Design Something to Have Uncanny Valley

One of the best ways to obtain the attention of people is by respectfully showing them something that would make them somewhat uncomfortable, which is something an object with an uncanny valley will elicit from a person. The uncanny valley is related to an object’s ability to resemble something human-like, which will take some time and effort to do.

Step 1: Learn and Understand Design Elements that Match Human Realism

There are many design elements that will come allow the viewers to easily see something in the context desired by the artist. Begin by learning and understanding the various design elements that will come into play when it comes to making something feel realistic, like skin textures, skin color, eye textures, and more.

Step 2: Learn and Integrate Common Human Behavior. Attitude, and Mannerisms

Another thing one should have to take into consideration is the integration of human-like behavior, attitude, and mannerisms into the object. Uncanny valley occurs in the small space between absolute human-likeness and something human-like, which means the object will need to exhibit some occurrences of human behavior, attitude, and mannerisms.

Step 3: Ensure the Proportions Are Realistic and Human-Like

Lastly, you must ensure that the proportions you use are realistic and human-like. The proportion doesn’t necessarily need to match a hundred percent but should be similar enough to come off as realistic.

Uncanny Valley: Science or Pseudoscience?

The concept of the Uncanny Valley is grounded in several disciplines, including robotics, psychology, and neuroscience. Researchers in these fields investigate how factors such as aesthetics, emotion perception, and cognitive dissonance contribute to the uncanny valley phenomenon. For example, studies in psychology and neuroscience have explored how human brains react to faces and expressions that appear nearly, but not entirely, human.

These studies typically use methods such as brain imaging and behavioral tests to analyze reactions to different levels of humanoid likeness. They provide empirical evidence suggesting that the uncanny valley exists and can be measured, which supports its classification as a scientific concept.

Why does the uncanny valley exist?

  • Visual and Behavioral Closeness: The uncanny valley effect occurs when a robot or an avatar is close to, but not perfectly, human-like in appearance or behavior. The slight deviations from human norms are perceived as strange or unsettling.
  • Evolutionary Perspective: Some scientists suggest that this reaction could be an evolutionary response designed to protect us from potential threats. We are attuned to normal human behaviors and appearances, so anything that deviates from this norm can be perceived as a threat or sickness, eliciting a repulsion response.
  • Familiarity and Empathy Gap: As objects appear more human-like, we tend to empathize more with them. However, if they fall short of full human likeness (but are very close), they can create a dissonance in our perception, leading to discomfort.
  • Technological Limitations: Current technologies may not always capture the subtle nuances of human expression or movement perfectly, contributing to the uncanny effect. This can make these almost-human figures seem lifeless or zombie-like.
  • Cultural Influences: Cultural background and individual experiences also play significant roles in how the uncanny valley is experienced. Different cultures may have different thresholds where these effects begin or are most pronounced.
  • Application and Impact: Understanding and overcoming the uncanny valley is crucial in robotics and animation, where creating relatable and comfortable interactions with human-like beings is important.

History of the Uncanny Valley

  • Concept Origin: The term “uncanny valley” was first coined by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. He used the term to describe his observations of human reactions to lifelike robots.
  • Mori’s Hypothesis: Mori proposed that as robots become more human-like, people’s responses to them would become increasingly positive and empathetic, until a point where the likeness becomes too strong and the response suddenly turns to revulsion.
  • Graphical Representation: Mori represented this concept through a graph: as the appearance of a robot becomes more human-like, the emotional response of humans increases positively, reaches a peak, then dips dramatically into negative territory—forming a valley.
  • Publication and Impact: Although initially published in an energy company’s newsletter in Japanese, the concept was popularized in the 2000s when robotic technologies and digital graphics made significant advancements.
  • Broader Application: Over time, the concept of the uncanny valley has been applied beyond robotics, extending into areas like computer-generated graphics in movies and video games, where overly realistic characters can cause discomfort among audiences.
  • Psychological and Biological Insights: Studies have explored the psychological and biological bases for why humans may feel revulsion at entities that appear nearly, but not exactly, human. These include evolutionary mechanisms designed to help us avoid disease and select healthy mates.
  • Contemporary Research: Recent research continues to explore how and why different cultures and individuals experience the uncanny valley differently, suggesting that familiarity, cultural background, and personal experiences play roles in how the phenomenon is perceived.
  • Current Relevance: The uncanny valley remains a significant consideration in the fields of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics, where designers strive to create more comfortable and engaging interactions with human-like entities.

Implications of the Uncanny Valley

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

  • Discomfort and mistrust in human-robot interaction, affecting the adoption and integration of humanoid robots in social settings.
  • Challenges in designing robots that are close to, but not perfectly mimicking, human appearance and behavior.

Computer Graphics and Animation

  • Difficulty in creating realistic human characters in movies and video games that do not provoke unease or rejection from viewers.
  • Need for increased attention to subtleties in human expressions and movements to avoid the uncanny valley effect.

Virtual Reality

  • Impact on user experience and immersion, where too realistic avatars might cause discomfort among users.
  • Necessity to balance realism and stylization to maintain comfortable and engaging virtual interactions.

Healthcare and Therapeutics

  • Potential issues in the effectiveness of humanoid robots used in therapy and patient care if they fall into the uncanny valley.
  • Importance of designing therapeutic robots that foster trust and comfort among patients.

Marketing and Advertising

  • Challenges in using virtual assistants and digital representatives that appear almost, but not fully, human.
  • Risk of negative consumer reactions to marketing campaigns featuring lifelike humanoid figures.

Ethics and Society

  • Philosophical and ethical implications regarding the creation of artificial beings that closely resemble humans.
  • Debates about the emotional and psychological impacts of interacting with human-like machines.

Effects of the Uncanny Valley

  • Emotional Discomfort: When robots or computer-generated figures closely resemble humans but are not quite lifelike, it often leads to feelings of eeriness or discomfort among human observers.
  • Drop in Affinity: There’s a noticeable decrease in people’s affinity towards a robot or CGI character as it approaches human likeness but is perceptibly different. This drop in affinity recovers once the entity looks fully human.
  • Impaired Trust and Interaction: The uncanny valley can negatively impact the willingness of humans to interact with or trust robots, particularly in roles that require close interaction like caregiving or customer service.
  • Aesthetic and Design Challenges: Designers and developers face challenges in creating appealing and effective robotic or CGI characters due to the uncanny valley. It influences decisions in aesthetics to either make figures less human-like or perfectly human-like to avoid discomfort.
  • Influence on Acceptance and Adoption: The phenomenon can influence the acceptance and adoption of robots and AI in society, particularly in fields where human interaction is prevalent.
  • Impact on Psychological Perception: The uncanny valley may also affect how humans psychologically categorize entities, wavering between seeing them as objects or beings with agency, which can complicate emotional and social responses.

Research on the Uncanny Valley

  • Perceptual and Cognitive Factors: Studies have shown that the Uncanny Valley effect is primarily driven by perceptual and cognitive dissonance when encountering near-human entities. The brain’s difficulty in categorizing these entities leads to discomfort and eeriness.
  • Emotional Reactions: Research has demonstrated that human-like robots and avatars can evoke stronger emotional responses compared to less human-like ones. This is especially true when the entity’s appearance or behavior deviates slightly from human norms.
  • Facial Realism: Experiments have found that even small imperfections in facial features or movements can trigger the Uncanny Valley effect. Highly realistic faces that fail to mimic natural expressions accurately can be perceived as unsettling.
  • Movement and Animation: Smooth, human-like movements are crucial for avoiding the Uncanny Valley. Jerky or unnatural movements increase the likelihood of an uncanny response.
  • Brain Imaging Studies: Functional MRI (fMRI) studies have revealed that areas of the brain involved in emotional processing, such as the amygdala, show increased activity when participants view entities that fall into the Uncanny Valley.
  • Electrophysiological Measures: EEG studies have indicated that the Uncanny Valley effect is associated with specific patterns of brain waves, suggesting a neural basis for the discomfort experienced.

Ongoing Research and Future Directions

Cross-Cultural Studies

  • Researchers are investigating how cultural differences impact perceptions of the Uncanny Valley. Initial findings suggest that cultural background can influence the degree of discomfort experienced when encountering near-human entities.

Longitudinal Studies

  • Long-term exposure studies are being conducted to understand whether repeated interactions with human-like robots and avatars can reduce the Uncanny Valley effect. These studies aim to determine if familiarity can mitigate initial discomfort.

Technological Advances

  • AI and Machine Learning: Advances in AI and machine learning are being utilized to create more realistic and adaptive human-like robots and avatars. These technologies aim to improve the naturalness of interactions and reduce the Uncanny Valley effect.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): VR and AR platforms are being used to test and refine human-like avatars in immersive environments. These studies focus on enhancing the realism and acceptability of virtual characters.

How to Avoid the Uncanny Valley

  • Maintain Simplicity in Design: Keep the design of robots or animated characters simple and stylized rather than striving for hyper-realism. This helps in keeping the characters approachable and less eerie.
  • Focus on Consistency: Ensure consistency between the appearance and behavior of characters. Discrepancies between highly realistic visuals and less sophisticated motion can amplify uncanny feelings.
  • Improve Motion Quality: Enhance the fluidity and naturalness of movements. Jerky or unnatural motions can be disturbing when paired with lifelike visuals.
  • Use Familiar Yet Distinct Features: Incorporate familiar human traits, but avoid mimicking human appearance too closely. This can be achieved by altering proportions or features slightly to signal non-human status.
  • Limit Detail in Certain Areas: Avoid high levels of detail in areas particularly sensitive to uncanniness, like eyes and facial expressions. Simplifying these elements can reduce discomfort.
  • Test with Diverse Audiences: Regularly test designs with diverse groups of people to gather a wide range of perceptions and reactions. This feedback is crucial for identifying elements that might be contributing to the uncanny valley effect.
  • Educate the Audience: Prepare the audience on what to expect regarding the realism of characters. This can help in mitigating shock or discomfort.
  • Adjust Expectations: If high realism is necessary, set appropriate expectations for interaction. Make it clear that the character or robot is not human, which can recalibrate user expectations and reactions.

Criticisms of the Uncanny Valley

  • Lack of Empirical Evidence
    Some researchers argue that the empirical evidence supporting the uncanny valley phenomenon is not robust or consistent. Studies have yielded mixed results, and the conditions under which the uncanny valley effect occurs are not well-defined.
  • Individual Differences
    People’s reactions to human-like robots or avatars vary widely. Factors such as cultural background, personal experiences, and familiarity with technology can influence whether someone experiences the uncanny valley effect.
  • Context Dependence
    The uncanny valley effect may be context-dependent, meaning that it is not a universal response. For example, a robot’s appearance might be unsettling in one situation but acceptable or even appealing in another.
  • Overemphasis on Appearance
    Critics argue that the uncanny valley theory places too much emphasis on the appearance of robots or avatars, neglecting other factors such as behavior, functionality, and interaction quality that contribute to human-likeness and acceptance.
  • Technological Development
    As technology advances, the boundaries of the uncanny valley may shift. What was once considered eerie may become acceptable as people become more accustomed to human-like machines.
  • Ethical and Philosophical Concerns
    The focus on making robots and avatars more human-like raises ethical and philosophical questions about the nature of humanity, identity, and the role of machines in society. These concerns may overshadow practical considerations and hinder technological progress.
  • Practical Implications
    The uncanny valley theory may not be practical for guiding the design and development of human-like robots and avatars. Designers and engineers need more concrete guidelines and empirical data to create effective and acceptable human-like machines.

Who coined the term “Uncanny Valley”?

The term “Uncanny Valley” was coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970.

Why do people feel uneasy in the Uncanny Valley?

People feel uneasy because almost-human entities trigger cognitive dissonance and an instinctive fear response due to their near-but-not-perfect resemblance to humans.

How is the Uncanny Valley relevant to robotics?

The Uncanny Valley is crucial in robotics, guiding the design of robots to ensure they evoke positive responses rather than discomfort.

What industries are affected by the Uncanny Valley?

The Uncanny Valley impacts industries like robotics, animation, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence, where creating human-like entities is common.

How can designers avoid the Uncanny Valley effect?

Designers can avoid the Uncanny Valley by either making robots distinctly non-human or achieving high levels of realism to avoid the eerie in-between.

What are examples of the Uncanny Valley in media?

Examples include lifelike CGI characters in movies, hyper-realistic video game avatars, and certain humanoid robots.

How does the Uncanny Valley impact user experience?

The Uncanny Valley can negatively affect user experience by making interactions with lifelike robots or animations unsettling and less enjoyable.

Can the Uncanny Valley be beneficial?

Understanding the Uncanny Valley helps improve the design of robots and animations, making them more acceptable and less likely to evoke discomfort.

What psychological theories explain the Uncanny Valley?

Psychological theories include cognitive dissonance, the mortality salience hypothesis, and evolutionary explanations regarding threat detection and survival instincts.

AI Generator

Text prompt

Add Tone

10 Examples of Public speaking

20 Examples of Gas lighting