Professor Agnieszka Wykowska leads the unit “Social Cognition in Human-Robot Interaction” (team consisting of 12 members) at the Italian Institute of Technology (Genoa, Italy), and is an adjunct professor of engineering psychology at the Lulea University of Technology. She is one of the Editors-in-Chief of International Journal of Social Robotics.
What is one change that, in your opinion, would hugely benefit aspiring women scientists?
I believe that there is a change that needs to happen at the level of day-to-day social dynamics. There seems to be much more pressure on women than on men to stay home, take care of their kids, perhaps choose part-time jobs over full-time jobs, in order to accommodate for the needs of the family. The pressures are often implicit, and very subtle. For example, it is often the case that a woman hears comments “oh, poor child” when she works long hours, and perhaps cannot serve warm lunch at home for the kid. These sorts of comments are much more rare towards fathers.
Such implicit subtle social pressures and expectations make women often feel guilty for dedicating much time to work, and, in end effect, they are more likely to choose to slow down their career pace or give it up altogether. A change in these subtle implicit attitudes needs to happen through early educational campaigns – perhaps already at the level of elementary schools. Moreover, we need to avoid implicit biases in, for example, commercials that represent women in what used to be traditional female jobs (or at home), while men are represented more often as higher-level professionals and academics.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Follow your passion! I guess that is the best advice that can be given to anyone. When there is passion, there is also the energy to pursue that passion, despite the challenges and difficulties that arise along that journey. Academia is not an easy path, and requires a lot of perseverance, patience, ability to withstand difficulties, rejections, criticism. And it requires a lot of flexibility and readiness to accept uncertainty and unpredictability. In academia, one needs to often relocate (until the point that one is senior enough to get appointed on a permanent position – which happens quite late in life in the academic world), change environment, change countries of residence. Giving up on established social life, and finding a new one. This is all very difficult, and perhaps more difficult for women than for men. And it’s extremely challenging for family life. But if there is passion, everything is solvable, and challenges are faced with optimism and vision that spans way beyond the challenges.
Tell us about your background
My background is cognitive neuroscience and my research focuses on human-robot interaction from the human perspective. Specifically, I am interested if and how fundamental mechanisms of human social cognition are evoked by robots’ behaviour. I am a principal investigator at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, where I lead the team “Social Cognition in Human-Robot Interaction”.
I first studied philosophy, in Cracow, Poland, at the Jagiellonian University. I graduated in philosophy of mind in 2001 and was fascinated by the topics related to mental states, and how they are instantiated by the brain. This led me to studying cognitive neuroscience (Ludwig Maximilian University Munich), where I graduated from the Neuro-cognitive Psychology programme (2006) and then did my PhD in psychology (2008). Upon completion of my PhD, I started working in collaboration with roboticists on topics related to human-robot interaction. The initial philosophical questions continue resonating in my work, as evidenced by my recently awarded (2016) ERC grant titled “Intentional Stance for Social Attunement”
Professor Agnieszka Wykowska leads the unit “Social Cognition in Human-Robot Interaction” (team consisting of 12 members) at the Italian Institute of Technology (Genoa, Italy), and is an adjunct professor of engineering psychology at the Lulea University of Technology. In her research, she examines mechanisms of human social cognition with the use of interactive protocols involving humanoid robots. For more details, please visit: https://www.iit.it/people/agnieszka-wykowska
She studied neuro-cognitive psychology (Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich) and philosophy (Jagiellonian University, Krakow). She obtained PhD in psychology and the German “Habilitation” from the Ludwig Maximilian University. Her interdisciplinary background resonates in the topic of her ERC grant “Intentional stance for social attunement” (awarded in 2016, https://instanceproject.eu).
Prof. Wykowska has published numerous papers in high-ranking journals, she is an editor-in-chief of International Journal of Social Robotics (Springer) and an associate editor of Frontiers in Psychology (section Cognition). She is a guest (co-)editor of a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B titled “From social brains to social robots: Applying neurocognitive insights to human-robot interaction (2018/2019), and of a research topic “Computational approaches for human-human and human-robot social interactions” (2018-2019) in Frontiers in Robotics and AI. She serves as Program Committee member for various conferences, such as “International Conference on Social Robotics”, or “Human-Robot Interaction”. In May 2018 she was invited to present her work during a meeting at the European Parliament “Investing in young researchers, shaping Europe’s future”, where the aim was to discuss the topics of societal impact of fundamental science. On 11.02.2019 (International Day of Women and Girls in Science) she took part in a debate at the European Commission, together with the EU Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, and two other female scientists on the topic of women in science.
Publications with Springer Nature
- Kompatsiari, K., Ciardo, F., Tikhanoff, V., Metta, A., Wykowska, A. (2018). On the role of eye contact in gaze cueing. Scientific Reports, 8, 17842, doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-36136-2
- Havlicek, O., Mueller, H., Wykowska, A. (2018). Distract yourself: prediction of salient distractors by own actions and external cues. Psychological Research, doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-1129-x
- Wykowska, A. (2018). Ride the wave of uncertainty. Featured in: Smaglik, P. Beating the odds to secure a permanent contract. Nature, 562, S49-S51, doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06873-5
- Wykowska, A., Kajopoulos, J., Obando-Leitón, M., Chauhan, S., Cabibihan, J.J., Cheng, G. (2015). Humans are well tuned to detecting agents among non-agents: Examining the sensitivity of human perception to behavioral characteristics of intentional agents. International Journal of Social Robotics, 7 (5), 767–781, doi: 10.1007/s12369-015-0299-6
- Wykowska, A., Chellali, R., Al-Amin, M. Md., Müller, H.J. (2014). Implications of Robot Actions for Human Perception. How Do We Represent Actions of the Observed Robots? International Journal of Social Robotics, 6 (3), 357-366.
- Wykowska, A., Schubö, A. (2012). Perception and action as two sides of the same coin. A review of the importance of action-perception links in humans for social robot design and research. International Journal of Social Robotics, 1, 5-14.
- Wykowska, A., Hommel, B., Schubö, A. (2011). Action-induced effects on perception depend neither on element-level nor on set-level similarity between stimulus and response sets. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, 73, 1034-1041.
- Wykowska, A., Maldonado, A., Beetz, M., Schubö, A. (2011). How humans optimize their interaction with the environment: The impact of action context on human perception. International Journal of Social Robotics, 3, 223-231.
- Ciardo, F., De Tommaso, D. Beyer, F. Wykowska, A. (2018). Reduced Sense of Agency in Human-Robot interaction. International Conference on Social Robotics, China, Springer Lecture Notes on Artificial Intelligence (LNAI), 11357, 441-450, doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-05204-1_43
- Ghiglino, D., De Tommaso, D. Wykowska, A. (2018). Attributing human-likeness to an avatar: the role of time and space in the perception of biological motion. International Conference on Social Robotics, China, Springer Lecture Notes on Artificial Intelligence (LNAI), 11357, 400-409, doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-05204-1_39
- Carlson, K., Hong Yee Wong, A., Tran Anh Dung, M. S., Wong Chern Yuen, A., Tan, Y. K., Wykowska, A. (2018). Training autistic children on joint attention skills with a robot. International Conference on Social Robotics, China, Springer Lecture Notes on Artificial Intelligence (LNAI), 11357, 86-92, doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-05204-1_9
- Kompatsiari K., Tikhanoff V., Ciardo F., Metta G., Wykowska A. (2017) The Importance of Mutual Gaze in Human-Robot Interaction. In: Kheddar A. et al. (eds) Social Robotics. ICSR 2017. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 10652, Springer, 443-452. DOI: doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-70022-9_44
- Kajopoulos, J., Wong, A. H. Y., Yuen, A. W. C., Dung, T. A., Tan, Y. K., Wykowska, A. (2015). Robot-Assisted Training of Joint Attention Skills in Children Diagnosed with Autism. Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence, 296-305.
- Wiese, E., Müller, H.J., Wykowska, A. (2014). Using a gaze-cueing paradigm to examine social cognitive mechanisms of individuals with autism observing robot and human faces. Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence, Springer, 8755, pp 370-379.
- Wykowska, A., Chellali, R., Al-Amin, M., Müller, H. (2012). Does observing artificial robotic systems influence human perceptual processing in the same way as observing humans? Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence 7621, Springer, 327–337.
- Wykowska, A., Schubö, A. (2010). Selecting when acting: how human perception is tuned to action goals and how robotics can benefit from that. Social Robotics. Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence, 6414, Springer, 275-285.