Carnegie Mellon University HCII Work on these projects has finished and the  last update for this site was in 2010. The site will be maintained as a community resource.

Anthropomorphic Interaction

A wide range of social behaviors and interactions with robots might constitute anthropomorphic interaction. We are currently exploring verbal and nonverbal behaviors.

Human Estimations of a Robot's Expertise

Humans adjust their communications for one another based on their estimation of what their listener knows. We have found that people make assumptions about a robot's knowledge using the same sorts of cues people use about one another, cues like nationality and gender. These estimations of a robot's knowledge can change the way people communicate with the robot. We have provided some preliminary evidence that judgments about a robot's knowledge do have consequences, but there plenty of work remains to be done, describing additional cues that communicate expertise.


Nickerson, R. S. (2001). The projective way of knowing: A useful heuristic that sometimes misleads. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 168-172.

Lee, S-L., Kiesler, S., Lau, I. Y-U, Chiu, C-Y. (2005). Human mental models of humanoid robots. International Conference on Robotics and Automation. April 18. Barcelona. [PDF 282K]

Powers, A., Kramer, A., Lim, S., Kuo, J., Lee, S. & Kiesler, S. (2005). Eliciting information from people with a gendered humanoid robot. Proceedings of the 2005 IEEE International Workshop on Robots and Human Interative Communication (RO-MAN 05). Nashville, TN, USA, Aug. 2005, 158-163.

A Robot's Estimations of Human Expertise

If humans change their communication, adjusting for what they estimate the robot is likely to know, then why shouldn't robots do the same? We explored the benefits and consequences of user-adapted dialogue and found the strongest effect when experiment participants felt some time pressure.


Torrey, C., Powers, A., Marge, M., Fussell, S.R. and Kiesler, S. (2006). Effects of Adaptive Robot Dialogue on Information Exchange and Social Relations. Proceedings of the Conference on Human Robot Interaction (HRI ’06). ACM Press.

Torrey, C., Powers, A., Fussell, S.R. and Kiesler, S. (2007). Exploring Adaptive Dialogue Based on a Robot’s Awareness of Human Gaze and Task Progress. Proceedings of the Conference on Human Robot Interaction (HRI ’07). ACM Press.

A Range of Anthropomorphic Roles for Robots

These previous experiments have considered the robot a peer to the human with whom it is interacting, but there are other possible roles a robot might take. Consider again the process of knowledge estimation between conversationalists. A robot is potentially better at making this estimation than a human. Knowledge estimation among humans is often imperfect, in part because sometimes humans rely on general stereotypes. One example of this is "elderspeak," a form of communciation directed at older adults. Elderspeak is thought to be the result of an overly generalized stereotype about the communication needs of older adults, but this kind of overaccommodation is often considered offensive.

If robots were to be "super-human" communicators, that is if robots were better able to infer and adapt to their listeners' needs than humans actually are, would that be a good thing? If robots became hyper-aware communicators, would that emphasize their anthropomorphic qualities or actually make them seem less human? And what would the effect be on the listeners' sense of efficacy?

Alternatively, robots could be designed as "sub-human" communicators. They could be actively designed to seem less articulate, attempting to downplay the resemblance to human-human communication. There are many potential roles a robot might take while remaining anthropomorphic in nature.


Torrey, C., Fussell, S. and Kiesler, S. (2005). Appropriate Accommodations: Speech Technologies and the Needs of Older Adults. Proc. AAAI Fall Symposium, Caring Machines. AAAI Press.

Torrey, C., Fussell. S.R., and Kiesler, S. (forthcoming). What Robots Could Teach Us About Perspective-Taking. In Morsella, E. (Ed.) Expressing oneself/Expressing one’s self: A festschrift in honor of Robert M. Krauss. Taylor and Francis, NY.


This website promotes understanding of anthropomorphism. Our work on these projects has finished, but the website will continue to be available as a community resource.