All of us have observed it.  Romney repels people viscerally.  Even his supporters feel uncomfortable around him.  The only people who actually seem to like the guy are his wife and sons...and they inspire a muted version of the same, um, aversion.

No one seems to be able to define exactly what it is about Willard that makes him so loathe-able.  He tries to ingratiate himself with people, as a political aspirant must — but it seems like the more time people spend with him, the more they can't wait to get away.  Couldn't you just feel Republicans' desperation in Tampa — please, please, please get me out of here!

The common adjective used to describe the GOP's Great White Hope is "robotic."  True enough.  But what is it, exactly, that creeps us out?

Come below the fold and encounter The Uncanny Valley.

The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics[1] and 3D computer animation,[2][3] which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The "valley" refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as a function of a robot's human likeness.
The phrase originated with Dr. Masahiro Mori, a robotics researcher, who hypothesizes that:
"...as the appearance of a robot is made more human, a human observer's emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot's appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.[8]

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a "barely human" and "fully human" entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly "strange" to a human being, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.[8]

Dr. Mori's research illuminates that there is a "space" between the obviously human and the obviously unhuman that is repellent to us.  This space can be easily seen in the graphic below:

Note that there are two curves.  One shows the revulsion levels associated with various static (un-moving) objects; the other revulsion levels associated with moving objects.  Corpses and zombies are at the absolute low points on these respective curves, with other objects/creatures elsewhere along the line.  The revulsion increases if the object is moving, which is why zombies are more revolting than cadavers.

Various hypotheses are offered to explain observers' affective responses.  The Wiki article lists these as:

1. Mate selection. A fertility-based response to a lack of appropriate reproductive attractiveness.

2. Mortality salience.  Moving humanoid figures may trigger fears of death.

3. Pathogen avoidance.  An instinctual sense that such figures may be sources of contagion.

4. Sorites paradoxes.  Undermining our sense of human identity by transgressing boundaries between individual and aggregate perception.

5. Violation of human norms. Wiki: "In other words, a robot stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a robot doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person."

6. Religious definition of human identity.  To the extent that a particular religion depends on human form, it may be profoundly unsettled by such an almost-but-not-quite-human figure.

Just see how creepy this Actroid looks:

Now see how you feel when you watch Mitt:

Wow.  The actroid is weirdly scary — on one side of the curve — and Mitt is equally strange — on the other. While not quite at zombie level, he's a lot further downslope than most of us.  

I have no reason to associate Mitt with mating needs (the first time I have ever sympathized even briefly with Ann Romney), and I am mildly interested, but not scared, by the thought of my own death.  If anything, I find him overly antiseptic and so my response to contagion is not elicited, and as an atheist I have no religion that privileges human identity.  Thus, I experience repulsion from Mitt Romney most for reasons 4 and 5, but your mileage may vary.

And what about other GOP figures?  Cheney is perhaps the only figure creepier than Romney, but even he seems more human.  Perhaps you can think of others.

Your thoughts and comments?  


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