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Scientists Reveal New Phenomenon: Clone Devaluation Effect

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Scientists have published a new study that reveals a phenomenon called clone devaluation effect. They evaluated how humans respond to images of people with the same face, which is similar to how human-like androids would look if mass-produced in the future. 

Robots are becoming increasingly human-like, and developers believe they will soon be able to create robots that are indistinguishable from humans. This would mean humanoids elicit negative emotions in viewers when their appearance is extremely similar to humans.

The researchers come from Kyushu University, Ritsumeikan University, and Kansai University, and they conducted six experiments with hundreds of people. The results were published in PLOS ONE

  • First Experiment: Individuals rated the subjective eeriness, emotional valence, and realism of a photoshopped photograph of six human subjects with the same face. In other words, it was a clone image. They also rated a non-clone image and a one person single image.


  • Second Experiment: Individuals rated another set of clone and non-clone images.

  • Third Experiment: Individuals rated clone and non-clone images of dogs. 

  • Fourth Experiment: The fourth experiment was a bit more complex with two parts. The first involved rating clone images of two sets of twins before rating clone faces of twins, triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets.

  • Fifth Experiment: Individuals rated clone images of Japanese animation and cartoon characters. 

  • Sixth Experiment: Individuals evaluated the subjective eeriness and realism of a different set of clone and non-clone images while answering the Disgust Scale Revised to analyze disgust sensitivity. 

The Results

In the first study, participants rated individuals with clone faces as eerier and more improbable than different faces or a single person’s face. 

This negative emotional response was termed clone devaluation effect by the researchers. 

Dr. Fumiya Yonemitsu is lead author from the Graduate School of Human-Environment Studies at Kyushu University. He is also a Research Fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. 

“The clone devaluation effect was stronger when the number of clone faces increased from two to four,” said Yonemitsu. “This effect did not occur when each clone face was indistinguishable, like animal faces in experiment three involving dogs.”

“We also noticed that the duplication of identity, that is the personality and mind unique to a person, rather than their facial features, has an important role in this effect. Clone faces with the duplication of identity were eerier, as the fourth experiment showed,” he continued. “The clone devaluation effect became weaker when clone faces existed in the lower reality of the context, such as in the fifth experiment. Furthermore, the eeriness of clone faces stemming from improbability could be positively predicted by disgust, in particular animal-reminder disgust, as noticed in the sixth experiment. Taken together, these results suggest that clone faces induce eeriness and that the clone devaluation effect is related to realism and disgust reaction.”

The results demonstrate that human faces provide important information for identifying individuals, and this comes from human beings and our one-to-one correspondence between face and identity. This is not the case for clone faces, however, and humans can misjudge the identity of people with clone faces as the same.

The team says that we must think critically when it comes to new technology, since there can be unwanted psychological reactions. 

Dr. Akihiko Gobara is Senior Researcher from BKC Research Organization of Social Science at Ritsumeikan University. 

“Our study clearly shows that uncomfortable situations could occur due to the rapid development of technology. But we believe our findings can play an important role in the smooth acceptance of new technologies and enhance people's enjoyment of their benefits,” said Gobara.

Alex McFarland is a Brazil-based writer who covers the latest developments in artificial intelligence. He has worked with top AI companies and publications across the globe.