Study says people get turned on by touching a robot's privates

Though it's not always and necessarily sexual arousal.

Ex Machina/Film4/DNA Films

We've known for a long time that some people like touching robotic butts and cannot lie -- sex-bots already exist, after all. But now a group of researchers from Stanford University have produced data that can back that up. Jamy Li, Wendy Ju and Byron Reeves programmed a Nao robot to instruct test subjects to touch it in 13 areas of its body, including "areas of low accessibility" such as its cold, plastic buttocks. Since the participants were fitted with sensors on their fingers, the group was able to collect data on their skin's conductivity. That's a way to measure whether someone finds something "physiologically arousing." In other words, when your skin becomes a better conductor for electricity, you're turned on.

The subjects in the team's 26 trial runs showed signs of arousal when Nao asked them to touch its intimate areas. They even touched those parts more quickly, as if they were uncomfortable doing so. However, Li told Mashable that "it isn't necessarily sexual arousal," not when the subjects reacted similarly when Nao asked them to touch its eye. They didn't get "turned on" when it asked them to touch its more accessible parts, like its hands.

She explained that it could all boil down to simple awkwardness:

"One way I thought about it is, the robot is talking like a person, it looks like a person and has social cues like a person [gesturing, looking at the subjects]. It's as if the robot is a teaching figure and asking a person to touch them in each of these parts as a way to interact... there could have been some awkwardness."

Li also said that their work illustrates just how powerful robots can be as a new form of media, as we respond to them -- humanoid ones, especially -- as we would respond to another human being. "Social conventions regarding touching someone else's private parts," she added, "apply to a robot's body parts as well."

The team conducted the study, because they believe that unlike Pepper that only has a tablet on its chest, robots of the future could have interactive bodies. They might be full of sensors that we could, say, simply tap them on the arm to start them up or give them a task to do. The results from this study imply that if a designer isn't specifically making a sex robot, then it's best to put their sensors on the more accessible parts of their bodies.

Li, Ju and Reeves haven't submitted their study to a journal yet, but they're slated to present it at the International Communication Association conference in Fukuoka, Japan on June 9th to 13th.