By Kate H (guest blogger)

Machine
Scumbag multiple collector-ICP-MS often doesn’t feel like working!

I have a love-hate relationship with many of the inductively coupled plasma type machines I use to perform analyses on seawaters and foram shells. Today was another multi-hour long battle, which fuelled some thoughts on the joy of smashing up machines, until I came across a study* from the University of Duisburg-Essen, in Germany in which humans were found to empathise with robots. This made me think, would I feel bad during my abusive actions…

In this study, a robot, human and a cardboard box (the control) are treated affectionately  (e.g. being petted) and badly (e.g. choked in a bag, beaten up). The volunteers, monitored by magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) to see brain patterns and correlations with these videos, showed similar neural responses towards the positive videos.  Unsurprisingly, in the abusive videos, the subjects felt the most concern for the human. But interestingly, the subjects frontal lobe and limbic areas – the parts of the brain associated with empathy, were very active during the robot abuse video too. Volunteers were also somewhat empathetic when watching a cardboard box being tortured too – which might suggest that maybe we just don’t enjoy depictions of violence.

If you want to see how you stack up, take the empathetic challenge below: (Warning, the dinosaur being tortured is quite sweet looking)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAVtkh0mL20

I think as the torch of the ICP flickered feebly and the pumps gurgled and struggled to keep vacuum, I might feel bad… (Especially if it resembled a sweet dinosaur, and I’d seen positive interactions with it just moments before). I’d probably also feel bad for ruining a pretty decent machine, as when things are good, they are really good!

*International Communication Association (2013, April 23). Humans feel empathy for robots: fMRI scans show similar brain function when robots