Tag Archives: Expressions

Drones can elicit emotions from people, which could help integrate them into society more easily

Could we learn to love a robot? Maybe. New research suggests that drones, at least, could elicit an emotional response in people if we put cute little faces on them.

A set of rendered faces representing six basic emotions in three different intensity levels that were used in the study. Image credits Viviane Herdel.

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have examined how people react to a wide range of facial expressions depicted on a drone. The study aims to deepen our understanding of how flying drones might one day integrate into society, and how human-robot interactions, in general, can be made to feel more natural — an area of research that hasn’t been explored very much until today.

Electronic emotions

“There is a lack of research on how drones are perceived and understood by humans, which is vastly different than ground robots,” says Prof. Jessica Cauchard, lead author of the paper.

“For the first time, we showed that people can recognize different emotions and discriminate between different emotion intensities.”

The research included two experiments, both using drones that could display stylized facial expressions to convey basic emotions to the participants. The object of these studies was to find out how people would react to these drone-borne expressions.

Four core features were used to compose each of the facial expressions used in the study: eyes, eyebrows, pupils, and mouth. Out of the possible emotions these drones could convey, five were recognized ‘with high accuracy’ from static images (joy, sadness, fear, anger, surprise), and four more (joy, surprise, sadness, anger) were recognized most easily in dynamic expressions conveyed through video. However, people had a hard time recognizing disgust no matter how it was conveyed to them by the drone.

What the team did find particularly surprising, however, is how involved the participants themselves were with understanding these emotions.

“Participants were further affected by the drone and presented different responses, including empathy, depending on the drone’s emotion,” Prof. Cauchard says. “Surprisingly, participants created narratives around the drone’s emotional states and included themselves in these scenarios.”

Based on the findings, the authors list a number of recommendations that they believe will make drones more easily acceptable in social situations or for use in emotional support. The main recommendations include adding anthropomorphic features to the drones, using the five basic emotions for the most part (as these are easily understood), and using empathetic responses in health and behavior change applications, as they make people more likely to listen to instructions from the drone.

The paper “Drone in Love: Emotional Perception of Facial Expressions on Flying Robots” has been published in the journal Association for Computing Machinery and has been presented at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (2021).

Credit: Pixabay.

Women aren’t more expressive than men, contrary to the common stereotype

You’ll hear a lot of people claim women are more expressive than men. But according to a new paper published by researchers at Microsoft who used a facial algorithm en mass, this doesn’t seem true at all. Instead, the gender pattern is actually more nuanced. For instance, some emotions are displayed more by men than women.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

The team led by Daniel McDuff, a scientist working at Microsoft Research, Redmond, recruited online 2,106 people from France, Germany, China, the US, and the UK. The participants were asked to watch a series of ads from their own countries on everything from cars to fashion to manufacturing which elicited various emotional responses. They had to film themselves with their own webcams while doing so.

Each video was analyzed by Microsoft’s facial recognition machine which understands emotional patterns from facial expressions. Here’s a glimpse of how it works. The fact that this whole process is automated is a huge advantage, especially for something as subjective as assessing emotions. Since a machine did all the facial analysis, instead of multiple human researchers, we can at least get an objective, unified review.

According to the findings:

  • women do seem to smile more, mirroring previous research. They also raise their inner brow more which generally reflects fear or sadness. However,
  • men frowned more. Frowns are usually indicative of anger, though it can reflect a state of confusion or concentration.
  • otherwise, there were no gender differences in other facial expressions.

If we’re to believe emotions and facial expressions are closely associated, the obvious implication is that women are more prone to feeling happy but also to feel more anxious. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to feel angry and, maybe, confused. If this is the case, why? What evolutionary mechanisms could have supported this gender difference?


The mean fraction of videos in which inner brow raises, outer brow raises, brow furrows, lip corner pulls and lip corner depressors appeared. Credit: PLOS ONE.

The researchers believe that some of the findings can be partly explained by cultural and social expectations. For instance, in many countries happiness is considered more desirable for women than for men. The paper highlights the observed data from the UK where the smallest difference in gender variation was seen.

Nevertheless, apart from some differences across countries in smiling and frowning, the gender difference in expressivity was far less pronounced than the stereotype might have us think.