Academic journal article International Journal of Design

The Aesthetic Appeal of Prosthetic Limbs and the Uncanny Valley: The Role of Personal Characteristics in Attraction

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

The Aesthetic Appeal of Prosthetic Limbs and the Uncanny Valley: The Role of Personal Characteristics in Attraction

Article excerpt


In addition to the physical change, the amputation of a limb can generate unpleasant psychological consequences (Horgan & MacLachlan, 2004; Price & Fisher, 2007; Shukla, Sahu, Tripathi, & Gupta, 1982; Whyte & Niven, 2001). Specifically, the literature shows that during the post-amputation phase, people can suffer symptoms such as stress and depression (Breakey, 1997; Cansever, Uzun, Yildiz, Ates, & Atesalp, 2003; Williamson, Schulz, Bridges, & Behan, 1994), and a general difficulty in accepting the new bodily condition (Sjödahl, Gard, & Jarnlo, 2004).

Interest in enhancing the self-body image and psychological wellbeing of amputees is an issue that has already been under consideration, and a functional prosthesis can undoubtedly be considered an important factor in this context. For instance, it has been stated that the use of a prosthesis helps the user to regain both mobility (Pohjolainen, Alaranta, & Kärkäinen, 1990) and the ability to return to performance of social activities (Murray, 2005).

Going beyond the functional role of the prosthesis, the literature shows how the aesthetic quality of the device influences the psychological concerns of amputees. Pillet and Didierjean-Pillet (2001) state: "No-one comes out unscathed by an amputation and a prosthesis may act as a security, a guarantee or a mechanism for requiring the integrity of one's physical appearance, which validates one's psychological integrity" (p. 528).

It has been stated that for prostheses to be accepted by users, they must be comfortable and functional, and must have a pleasant appearance (Millstein, Heger, & Hunter, 1986). Similarly, Bhuvaneswar, Epstein, and Stern (2007) report that "cosmetic appearance appears to play as great a role in psychological sequelae of amputation as does the return of physical function" (p. 306). Cairns, Murray, Corney, and McFadyen (2013) argue that the appearance of the prosthesis affects the acceptance of the device and, in the context of lower limb cosmetic devices, they state that improving the aesthetic quality of the prosthesis can consequently help to improve the self-body image and psychological wellbeing of the wearer.

Accordingly, it is our belief that the aesthetics of prosthetics can influence the psychological wellbeing of lower-limb amputees, and we believe that this principle should be accounted for in prosthetic design. Specifically, this paper investigates the role of the level of realism in prosthetics as a factor for generating attraction in amputees and non-amputees. Our belief is that there is no "standard beautiful design" for prostheses that fits the aesthetic needs of all users and observers, although a connection can be found with certain characteristics of prostheses which can meet the aesthetic requirements of specific groups (e.g., by gender or nationality).

Prosthetic Design

"Prosthetics" is a term that refers to devices designed to replace a missing part of the body. This definition applies to devices that replace a limb segment rather than externally applied devices which are referred to as "orthotics." For example, we can classify an artificial arm, leg, or finger as a "prosthesis," whereas external entities such as a dental brace, insoles, or a pair of glasses are "orthotics."

This study aims to explore the "aesthetics of prosthetic devices" by examining people's preferences for artificial limbs with either realistic or non-realistic appearances. The limited literature on the topic demonstrates that this field is still in its infancy. A review of current academic literature on prosthetic design shows that in contrast to the limited research around aesthetics, extended work to date has been largely focused on technical improvement of the devices (Cheetham, Suter, & Jäncke, 2011; Hahl, Taya, & Saito, 2000; Klute, Kallfelz, & Czerniecki, 2001; Mak, Zhang, & Boone, 2001). A recent popular example, showing the rapid technological improvement in prosthetic design, is offered by the design of a successfully functional prosthetic hand by the American citizen Paul McCarthy for his son Leon at the low cost of $10 (Reilly, 2013). …

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