The E-motion project (including Media Lab Europe researcher John Bourke) investigates the tendency for people to anthropomorphise or project motivations onto inanimate objects. In particular, it explores the role that motion behaviours can play in people's interpretation of such behaviours as high-level notions like emotional states. The investigation involves conducting perceptual experiments.
The first series of these experiments was conducted through the Web. Participants viewed various video clips of minirobots (Kheperas) performing either individual or interactive behaviours and were then asked to describe what they saw in a questionnaire. The objective was not for people to necessarily recognise the intended programmed motion behaviours in the robots but rather to provide their interpretation of the scenarios.
These experiments have already illustrated people's inclination (whether consciously or not) to overlay a degree of anthropomorphic behaviour in their interpretations of the robots' actions.
A second series of experiments further explored other issues (such as the influence of more explicit social associations such as costumes or storytelling through the motions of interacting robots), and will be cross-compared with the initial baseline experiments.