The Long-Term Efficacy of “Social Buffering” in Artificial Social Agents: Contextual Affective Perception Matters

Imran Khan, Lola Cañamero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Downloads (Pure)


In dynamic (social) environments, an affective state of “stress” can be adaptive and promote agent wellbeing, but maladaptive if not appropriately regulated. The presence of (and interactions with) affect-based social support has been hypothesised to provide mechanisms to regulate stress (the “social buffering” hypothesis), though the precise, underlying mechanisms are still unclear. However, the hormone oxytocin has been implicated in mediating these effects in at least two ways: by improving social appraisals and reducing the short-term release of stress hormones (i.e., cortisol), and adapting an agent’s long-term stress tolerance. These effects likely facilitate an agent’s long-term adaptive ability by grounding their physiological and behavioural adaptation in the (affective) social environment, though these effects also appear to be context-dependent. In this paper, we investigate whether two of the hypothesised hormonal mechanisms that underpin the “social buffering” phenomenon affect the long-term wellbeing of (artificial) social agents who share affective social bonds, across numerous social and physical environmental contexts. Building on previous findings, we hypothesise that “social buffering” effects can improve the long-term wellbeing of agents who share affective social bonds in dynamic environments, through regular prosocial interactions with social bond partners. We model some of the effects associated with oxytocin and cortisol that underpin these hypothesised mechanisms in our biologically-inspired, socially-adaptive agent model, and conduct our investigation in a small society of artificial agents whose goal is to survive in challenging environments. Our results find that, while stress can be adaptive and regulated through affective social support, long-term behavioural and physiological adaptation is determined by the contextual perception of affective social bonds, which is influenced by early-stage interactions between affective social bond partners as well as the degree of the physical and social challenges. We also show how these low-level effects associated with oxytocin and cortisol can be used as “biomarkers” of social support and environmental stress. For socially-situated artificial agents, we suggest that these “social buffering” mechanisms can adapt the (adaptive) stress mechanisms, but that the long-term efficacy of this adaptation is related to the temporal dynamics of social interactions and the contextual perception of the affective social and physical environments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number699573
Number of pages24
JournalFrontiers in Robotics and AI
Early online date15 Sept 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Sept 2022


  • Robotics and AI
  • artificial agents
  • affective perception
  • affective interaction
  • social allostasis
  • social bonds
  • homeostasis
  • social buffering
  • stress


Dive into the research topics of 'The Long-Term Efficacy of “Social Buffering” in Artificial Social Agents: Contextual Affective Perception Matters'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this