What makes the Eerie Valley so unsettling

What makes the “creepy valley” so unsettling?

Have you ever looked at a lifelike doll and felt your skin crawl? Do you feel uneasy when you see a human-like robot? Feeling nauseous when you saw a zombie frolicking aimlessly on the screen? If so, then you have experienced the phenomenon known as the scary valley.

First proposed in 1970 by Japanese robotist Masahiro Mori, The Eerie Valley is the creepy, repulsive feeling we get when we observe a being that looks nearly human, but an essential element of humanity is missing.

Features of the eerie valley

When Mori first suggested the eerie valley phenomenon, he created a graphic to explain the concept:

According to Mori, the more "human" a robot appears, the more positive our feelings towards them will be - up to a point. When robots approach a near-perfect human likeness, our responses quickly switch from positive to negative. That sharp emotional dip seen in the graphic above is the creepy valley. Negative reactions can range from mild discomfort to severe rejection.

Mori's original diagram indicated two different routes to the eerie valley: one for stationary beings such as corpses and one for moving beings such as zombies. Mori predicted that the eerie valley would be steeper for moving beings.

Finally, the eerie valley effect subsides and people's feelings towards a robot become positive again as soon as the robot can no longer be distinguished from a human.

In addition to robots, the eerie valley can include things like CGI movie or video game characters (such as those from The polar express) whose looks do not match their behavior, as well as wax figures and realistic-looking dolls whose faces look human but lack the life in their eyes.

Why the creepy valley freaks us out

Ever since Mori coined the term, the eerie valley has been researched by everyone from robotics to philosophers to psychologists. But it wasn't until 2005, when Mori's original paper was translated from Japanese into English, that research on the subject really began.

Despite being intuitively familiar with the idea of ​​the spooky valley (anyone who's ever seen a horror movie with a human-like doll or zombie has likely experienced it. Mori's idea was a prediction, not the result of scientific research. Hence the scientists themselves Disagree today about why we are experiencing the phenomenon and whether it even exists.

Stephanie Lay, a sinister valley researcher, says she has counted at least seven explanations for the phenomenon in the scientific literature, but there are three that have the greatest potential.

Boundaries between categories

First, categorical boundaries can be responsible. In the case of the uncanny valley, this is the boundary at which an entity moves between nonhuman and human. For example, researchers Christine Looser and Thalia Wheatley found that when they presented participants with a series of manipulated images created from human and mannequin faces, participants took the images at the point where they reached the more human end of the world, consistently as lifelike true spectrum. The perception of life was based more on the eyes than on any other part of the face.

Perception of the mind

Second, the eerie valley might depend on people's belief that beings with human-like characteristics have human-like spirits. In a series of experiments Kurt Gray and Daniel Wegner found that machines became troubling when humans ascribed the ability to feel and feel, but not when humans' only expectation of the machine was the ability to act. The researchers suggested this because people believe that the ability to feel and sense is fundamental to humans, but not to machines.

Mismatch between appearance and behavior

After all, the eerie valley can be the result of a mismatch between the appearance of an entity close to humans and its behavior. For example, in one study, Angela Tinwell and her colleagues discovered that a human-like virtual entity was viewed as the most annoying when it did not respond to a scream with a visible startled reaction in the eye region. Participants perceived an entity exhibiting this behavior and exhibiting psychopathic features, suggesting a possible psychological explanation for the eerie valley.

The future of the eerie valley

As androids continue to be integrated into our lives to aid us in a variety of skills, we need to like and trust them so that we can have the best interactions. For example, recent research suggests that medical students can train with simulators that look and act like humans to help them perform better in real-world emergency situations. Finding out how to negotiate the creepy valley is important as we increasingly rely on technology to support us in everyday life.


  • Gray, Kurt, and Daniel M. Wegner. "Feeling Robots and Human Zombies: Mind Perception and the Eerie Valley." Understandingvol. 125, no. 1, 2012, pp. 125-130, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2012.06.007
  • Hsu, Jeremy. "Why" Uncanny Valley "human doppelgangers make us nervous." Scientific American, April 3, 2012. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-uncanny-valley-human-look-alikes-put-us-on-edge/
  • Mori, Masahiro. "The uncanny valley." energyvol. 7, no. 4, 1970, pp. 33-35, translated by Karl F. MacDornan and Takashi Minator, http://www.movingimages.info/digitalmedia/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/MorUnc.pd
  • Lay, Stephanie. "We introduce the eerie valley." Stephanie Lay's Research Web, 2015. http://uncanny-valley.open.ac.uk/UV/UV.nsf/Homepage? ReadForm
  • Lay, Stephanie. "Eerie Valley: Why We Find Human-Like Robots and Puppets So Creepy." The conversationn, November 10, 2015. https://theconversation.com/uncanny-valley-why-we-find-human-like-robots-and-dolls-so-creepy-50268
  • Looser, Christine E., and Thalia Wheatley. "The turning point of animation: how, when and where we perceive life in a face." Psychological sciencevol. 21, no. 12, 2010, pp. 1854-1862, https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797610388044
  • Rouse, Margaret. "Eerie valley." WhatIs.com, February 2016. https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/uncanny-valley
  • Tinwell, Angela, Deborah Abdel Nabi, and John P. Charlton. "Perception of Psychopathy and the Eerie Valley in Virtual Characters." Computer in human behaviorvol. 29, no. 4, 2013, pp. 1617-1625, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2013.01.008