Voight-Kampff Empathy Test

The Voight-Kampff test was a test used by the LAPD’s Blade Runners to assist in determining whether or not an individual was a replicant. During such an examination, the investigator asks the suspect a series of questions while looking for the presence or absence of some automatic physiological response from their subject. Do the suspect’s pupils dilate, does their skin conductance increase, or does their heart rate shift when a particularly arousing scene is described? If the suspect isn’t a real human, he or she may not be able to fake the appropriate bodily response, and get caught in the act. The Voigt-Kampff empathy test uses this discrepancy to distinguish whether the emotional response is genuine or artificial. Bounty hunters become arbiters who, by administering an empathy test, separate human from android.

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The man on the right, Mr. Holden, is adjusting the machine so that he can best evaluate the man seated across from him, Leon. The machine will measure Leon’s responses so that the observer can determine if Leon is human or a replicant. The Voight-Kampff machine seems to measure physical responses in the subject as Mr. Holden delivers a verbal narrative carefully crafted to entice empathy in the subject.

As the test begins Leon wants to know why he is supposed to be walking in a desert and what a tortoise is. He is seeking to know so that he can understand. Mr. Holden maintains a matter-of-fact attitude as he continues with the Voight-Kampff test. Mr. Holden is trying to discern if Leon has genuine “emotional responses” to the questions. The replicant is a manmade creation of genetic and biological engineering. It is nearly but not completely human. Leon’s inability to perform well on the test or his unwillingness to continue with the test prompts him to kill Mr. Holden during the test, and thus the film’s investigation begins.

When Deckard conducts the Voight-Kampff test on Rachael, however, a female replicant of the advanced Nexus 6 generation who will become Deckard’s lover, it takes more than a hundred questions to establish that she indeed is a replicant. Deckard learns from Dr Eldon Tyrell, scientist and owner of the Tyrell Corporation which manufactures the replicants, that the reason for Rachael’s extraordinary resistance to the test, is that she is unaware that she is a replicant. Rachael believes she is human.

More human than human is our motto!” He goes on to explain, that Rachael has been equipped with artificial memory implants, based partly on Tyrell’s niece’s life, which provides Rachel with the memory of a childhood and a personal history. She has also been given fabricated photographs of herself as a child together with her mother. Tyrell admits, however, that Rachael is beginning to have suspicions about her origin. Later, in his apartment, Deckard mercilessly confronts Rachel with the truth, by describing her most intimate childhood memories to her: “Did you ever tell anybody that? Implants! Those aren’t your memories; they’re somebody else’s. They’re Tyrell’s niece’s”. The purpose of the memory implants is to provide a cushion for the emotions of the inexperienced replicants, allowing the Tyrell Corporation to control them better. But from a phenomenological point of view, the memory implants also erase the final distinction between replicants and humans.

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