Investigating the uncanny valley for prosthetic hands

Ellen Poliakoff, Sophie O'Kane, Olivia Carefoot, Peter Kyberd, Emma Gowen

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Background - In 1970, Mori hypothesised the existence of an 'uncanny valley', whereby stimuli falling short of being fully human are found to be creepy or eerie.

Objectives - To investigate how eerie people find different prosthetic hands and whether perceptions of eeriness can be accounted for by categorical ambiguity.

Study design - Students participated in computerised experiments during which photographic images of hands were presented.

Methods - We compared photographs of prosthetic hands pre-selected as more (H+) or less human-like (H-), as well as mechanical and real hands. Participants rated the hands for eeriness and human-likeness, as well as performing a speeded classification (human/non-human) and location judgment (control) task.

Results - The H- prosthetic hands were rated as more eerie than the H+ prosthetic, mechanical and real hands, and this was unaffected by hand orientation. Participants were significantly slower to categorise the H+ prosthetic hands compared to the H- prosthetic and real hands, which was not due to generally slower responses to the H+ prosthetic hands (control task).

Conclusion - People find prosthetic hands to be eerie, most consistently for less human-like prosthetic hands. This effect is not driven by ambiguity about whether to categorise the prosthetic hand as human or artificial. Clinical relevance More obviously artificial, less-realistic, prosthetic hands consistently generate a sense of eeriness, while more realistic prosthetic hands avoid the uncanny valley, at least on initial viewing. Thus, greater realism in prosthetic design may not always incur a cost, although the role of movement and cutaneous input requires further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-27
Number of pages7
JournalProsthetics and Orthotics International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2018


  • Affect
  • Artificial Limbs/psychology
  • Attitude
  • Female
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photography
  • Visual Perception
  • Young Adult


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