Friday, October 30, 2009

Uncanny Valley Effect - or Why You Might Hate Gays

One of the more interesting theories out there in regards to robotics is called the Uncanny Valley Effect (UVE). It holds that our perception of a robot becomes more and more positive until it hits a certain level of almost human likeness at which point that positive response turns into repulsion, until it finally improves to a totally human look at which point the positive response returns.

There are a number of thoughts behind why this is, but one of them is that at a certain point the robot looks human enough that we stop judging it AS a robot and start judging it as a human. At that point it strikes us as wrong, because it is NOT QUITE human, and we are repulsed because it is a natural reaction to humans who are either diseased or have genetic defects that make them unfit mates.

What struck me the other day is that I think this may tie somewhat into why people hate certain groups of people so violently.

Take gays for instance and the recent battle over gay marriage in California.

Now a typical response to something that you don't care for is relatively mild. Say your best friend loves asparagus and you hate it. They say, "I love asparagus," and your reasonable response is, "Ugh, I hate that shit, but you enjoy yourself!" Obviously another person loving asparagus doesn't take anything away from you, so why should you get upset, even though you find it personally distasteful.

Now suppose a gay friend says, "I love sucking dick." A reasonable heterosexual response, even one repulsed by the idea of men sucking men's dicks, would be along the lines of, "Yuck, I hate the idea of a dude sucking a dick, but you enjoy yourself!" After all, a man loving the taste of some dick on his tongue doesn't take anything away from you.

But that's not how people react. They react as though this thing they don't like is a disease. Something negative and infectious that will spread and destroy what they love. They act as though homosexuality, for this particular example, DOES take something away from them. And so they actively fight it.

The vigor they put into the battle against gay marriage becomes the same sort of energy they would use to fight the idea that people carrying smallpox is normal and healthy.

So what is the explanation for why people would look at homosexuality as a pathogen. It certainly doesn't make any logical sense. It's neither infectious, nor can it be passed on through traditional mating. The answer may be in the Uncanny Valley Effect.

Stereotypes by their nature paint a certain group as less than human. Just like a robot is less than human. And to a point stereotypes can be useful in that we cannot know every person in the world, so having some way to quickly judge the outlook and culture of a group of people helps us to organize a very big world. But as we apply those stereotypes more specifically to a person, instead of keeping them as a broad stroke way to know a group, we begin to merge the depersonalization of a stereotype with the personalization of interacting with an individual human.

It is at this point that the Uncanny Valley Effect could apply, for we begin to have the same repulsion that we have for a robot that looks almost human, but not human enough. We recognize an individual member of a stereotyped group in the same way - almost human, but not human enough. The repulsion then becomes attached to the stereotype and it could be argued leads to the desire to fight the spread of this "type" of person.

In seeing the group as less than human because of a stereotype, our one theory behind the reason for UVE discussed above, a disease model, would indicate that we start to see that stereotype as a pathological model.

So a group that views homosexuality as distasteful because of religious, cultural, or societal upbringing, finds itself repulsed and warps a simple disinterest in, or distaste for something, into a need to end it and label it as wrong.

If this is the case, the basic model can be applied to many cultural issues, as this is likely why there remain problems with racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. In every case, an other is judged as almost, but not quite human. And when the UVE takes hold, fear and anger lead to hatred and violence. A desire to end that other.

Treating it not like asparagus, but cancer.

Probably only through further personalization can this be ended, forcing the disapproving party to see the stereotype they hate as a real person through specific interaction. Not a particularly realistic solution, but certainly a path worth exploring for those who wish to actively supersede their prejudices.

Baring that, since it is an emotional, not logical reaction, there's no real use trying to argue someone out of their UVE induced hate. The focus should then be on educating others, and illuminating the illogical hate and fear in arguments against a particular group instead of pretending that both sides are presenting equally valid arguments.

When it comes to stereotype driven perspectives, especially in regards to law, it's like one side believes the sky is blue, and the other believes it's made of pudding.

As a species it is in our best interest to evolve past the pudding, and get into the blue when dealing with issues such as immigration, racial profiling, gay marriage, etc. Just be aware, that those on the pudding side of things seem to really love their pudding.

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