Another MCP hinted me to an interesting video
that deals with an research project on emotional attachment to a robot that you build by yourself.
So you'd better not build AlphaRex by yourself if you want to use him for clearing mines later on...
There's a further dimension that I think is worth mentioning: I was not nearly this attached to the RCX, or the RCX robots (in most cases). I suspect the reason has to do with *naming*. Each of my NXT bricks is named... and that tends to build a strong emotional attachment, even after that particular robot has been disassembled. Selecting "who" (which NXT brick) was going up on HALE was actually an important consideration for me. And I find if I end up naming the robot, I seem to have a stronger investment in it (no, I don't name the robot after I've formed such a connection - in fact, often the name is one of the first things I come up with, long before the model is done) - especially if that name is "human-ish" (proper noun in normal language usage), instead of a general noun/verb.
Sigh... you would not BELIEVE how loud I yelled when I found out, through remote internet telemetry, that Lil' Joe had survived the HALE mission skydive. I was LOUD... yeah, you can get emotionally stressed about your robot, I couldn't agree more.
In FLL, I often see that the designer of the robot/attachment/program gets way too attached to it and will beat their head against the wall trying to get it to work, whereas one of the other team members may have a much more objective view and can see the obvious flaw and would pull back sooner. This is of course a mirror of the real world, and is one of the great things about FLL -- you see all the same effects as in the workplace, just much more obvious with the kids.
For me, as a professional programmer, one of the things that has served me well is rarely getting attached to code that I have written. I would openly welcome discovering something new that would allow me to discard thousands of lines of code that I had previously written, or a reason to re-write it all in a simpler way. I was often surprised how many of my co-workers had the oppostite reaction. They would defend their existing code to the point of irrationality, and even when the team decided to ditch it, they would work hard to try to recycle their old code and reincarnate it somewhere else.
I can't totally explain the difference in outlook here, but something tells me that if you really enjoy the design process, then when you get around to testing your creation, there is actually a (perverse?) inner desire for it to fundamentally fail so you can tear it apart and re-design it again... I feel this when I work on the NXT too. Come on, please fail, so I can try again. Dang, it worked. Project over, time to document it.
As you imply, there's a little bit of that "will to fail" in there as well, because it tosses us back into the creative process... and to be honest with myself, it's not the destination that makes all this fun, it's the journey.
Sigh. Trying to figure out some of these sort of questions is fun, and not at all easy. I was once asked "why I caved", which resulted in the same sort of process: going around and around and finally coming back to "I just do" :)
When it comes to just re-building a robot created by some one else (official LEGO models with ready-made building instructions, for instance), my emotional attachment to it is pretty low. For my own ones, though, it's considerably higher then, but still depends on different factors, mainly on how much effort I spent into it and how satisfied I am with it.
So the people who did the research missed the point somehow and their basic approach might be considered sub-optimal: they should have separated "building own creations" from "just rebuilding creations designed by someone else" (maybe they aren't robot builders by themselves?).
Still, a most interesting research topic and a valuable contribution.
Same with "life-like" behavior:
I am suprised how quick people watching a robot showing some (internally) basic behavior were in stating: "look, it's pondering now!" or "oh, now it's frightened" or the likes. I guess that's typical human.