Crossing the Uncanny Valley? Understanding Affinity, Trustworthiness, and Preference for More Realistic Virtual Humans in Immersive Environments

AbstractDevelopers have long strived to create virtual avatars that are more realistic because they are believed to be preferred over less realistic avatars; however, an “Uncanny Valley” exists in which avatars that are almost but not quite realistic trigger aversion. We used a field study to investigate whether users had different affinity, trustworthiness, and preferences for avatars with two levels of realism, one photo-realistic and one a cartoon caricature. We collected survey data and conducted one-on-one interviews with SIGGRAPH conference attendees who watched a live interview carried out utilizing two avatars, either on a large screen 2D video display or via 3D VR headsets. 18 sessions were conducted over four days, with the same person animating the photo realistic avatar but with different individuals animating the caricature avatars. Participants rated the photo-realistic avatar more trustworthy, had more affinity for it, and preferred it as a virtual agent. Participants who observed the interview through VR headsets had even stronger affinity for the photo-realistic avatar and stronger preferences for it as a virtual agent. Interviews further surprisingly suggested that our ability to cross the Uncanny Valley may depend on who controls the avatar, a human or a virtual agent.

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