I know the explanation for the Voight-Kampff test: Replicants lack empathy, which can be detected by their involuntary physiological responses to certain questions/prompts.

But in the movie, it always strikes me as the opposite. The Replicants often seem more affected by the VK hypotheticals - especially those involving the mistreatment of animals.

Now, this is very much contrary to the explanations I've found (or maybe Google failed me) and, I believe, contrary to the Philip K. Dick story. But it seems to fit rather well with certain scenes:

  • During Leon's interrogation, he becomes upset - or acts that way - at the story of the tortoise (turtle) on its back. The soundtrack features a rapidly beating heart, which would seem to indicate that he's not faking: He's genuinely upset.

  • Rachel plays it icy cold, seeming unaffected by the questions. It's only when she becomes flustered at the "entrée of boiled dog" that Deckard appears to get his answer. I.e. when she does show emotion.

  • As Tyrell says, "'More human than human', is our motto." Animals (real ones) are mostly extinct in the Blade Runner world, or are referred to as "expensive" - they're status symbols, if anything. Doesn't seem like anyone just "likes" animals. In other words, humans have lost all notion of humanity (as it were) toward animals, while the more "pure" Replicants have retained it, which would indeed make them more human(e) than human.

In general, humans in Blade Runner seem completely jaded. For instance, Deckard (who may be a Replicant himself) is the only one affected by Zhora's, er, performance at Taffy's club. You hear people gasp, but don't see anyone else look away. The same crowd might find the boiled dog entrée deliciously decadent.

Of course, the Replicants don't seem to feel a lot of empathy towards humans, but then again that might also be cynically construed as human nature. The contradiction of a stone cold murderer also being an animal lover isn't exactly a new one. Besides, even if the Replicants feel remorse (Deckard certainly isn't too fond of his job), they are fighting for their lives and some are trained as killers, so there's that.

In all, it just seems to me that the Replicants in the movie aren't lacking in empathy - humans are. But again, everything I've found points in the opposite direction.

So is there anything to this or not? If not, how am I misinterpreting things?

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    The scene with Leon could be interpreted as being sorry about the turtle, but it could also just be interpreted as fight-or-flight instincts kicking in since he's about to be exposed. He seems more focused on being combative with the test-giver than anguished about the tortoise, and challenging him about why he wouldn't flip it around seems like part of that (I interpret him as pretending not to understand things the test-giver says, like the meaning of the word tortoise or the fact that the test-giver wasn't really asking about his address as part of the test, rather than genuinely confused).
    – Hypnosifl
    Oct 18, 2015 at 18:12
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    @Hypnosifl True, it could just be the tension rising. But I don't think he's pretending to not understand, though. He's later described as "mental level C" (compared to Roy's level A); he doesn't act dumb, he is dumb (to put it plainly). Fight-or-flight is unrelated to intelligence of course, but he doesn't actually shoot Holden during peak tension, only after. Which makes me think he's totally engrossed in the story and the plight of the tortoise. Only after snapping out of it does he realize he's been caught and has to act.
    – Flambino
    Oct 18, 2015 at 18:48
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    Nothing is really established about the mental classification system, is it? Roy probably has genius-level intelligence given his easily beating Tyrell at chess and their discussion of high-level scientific issues, so it could be that relative to humans, B is still well above average and C is average or higher. So I still think the scene can easily be interpreted either way, in terms of whether he is playing dumb (similar to how a modern person might try to generate confusing readings on a lie detector test) or genuinely dumb.
    – Hypnosifl
    Oct 18, 2015 at 18:58
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    @Hypnosifl True, I'm basing the metal levels on their behavior. And Leon just always struck me as not-too-bright. Childlike even. But after writing my comment I remembered the scene at the eye lab, where Leon walks around being an unsettling presence, placing eyeballs on Chew's shoulder etc.. He's being purposefully unsettling, so maybe he's not that dumb? Then again, he also sticks his hand in something extremely cold and seems more confused than anything at the result. Yes, it nonverbally proves his nature to Chew, but Leon just seemed distracted by all the shiny things in the lab.
    – Flambino
    Oct 18, 2015 at 19:26
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    Even if he is genuinely somewhat dumb, I still think it's quite possible his tension is rising in that scene not because he's distressed about the imaginary tortoise, but because he's being pressed to answer a question whose significance he doesn't really understand, but he knows enough to realize that responding "incorrectly" will expose him as a replicant.
    – Hypnosifl
    Oct 19, 2015 at 20:34

3 Answers 3


I think the off world replicants are not really empathetic. They've learned response patterns to appear more human. The Voight-Kampf test doesn't take long to spot them. Rachel's emotions seem real. She's devastated when she finds out she's a replicant, and Deckerd seems genuinely sympathetic.

If Deckard is a replicant, he's probably been around for a few years. Other people in law enforcement don't seem to know he's a replicant. They'd know Deckard showed up 3 or 4 years ago, yet they act as if he's a long timer. If this is right, then it really makes nosense to assume Rachel's a short timer.

It's not uncommon in psychological tests for the actual response that's being scored to not be about the question being asked. Maybe the response the tester is looking for reveals itself when the testee becomes bored or frustrated with the questions. Deckard has to keep asking questions because Rachel is so low key.

Have you ever seen a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test? They have between 300 and 600 items. Wears you out. It actually measures things like hypochondriasis (how concerned you are about your health), depression, emotionality, need to control, paranoia, anxiety, energy, and how comfortable you feel around other people. If you really take the MMPI, you might try to answer the items to make yourself look good, rather than answer honestly. I think the Voight-Kamp machine detects when you're not telling the truth, and what your answer should be.

I'd bet that real humans tend to be all over the map, and replicants don't deviate nearly as much.

I think that the replicants who aren't allowed to come to Earth are probably sociopaths. Their emotions would be stunted, allowing them to do things the average person wouldn't want to do. Also they seem to be a lot stronger than replicants running around on Earth, so when Deckard and Rachel throw each other around, their strength is more like humans. If Rachel had been extra strong, she probably would have noticed.

Philip Dick's story wasn't about replicants, it was about human beings. The question to ask yourself is, when you feel an emotion, is it real, or is it a programmed response? Is love real? Is compassion real? Look at these pictures - they were taken the day I got married.

  • If you think of replicants as cars, I don't think there's a successful car company in the world that has only one model. Oct 22, 2015 at 0:39
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    I know this is an old answer, but regarding the point you mention of trying to look good or bad on the MMPI it actually gives a score of how truthful you're being on the test, and a low score on that would indicate that you should take the test again and be more willing to be truthful because it throws off the rest of your results. They can tell to some degree if you're lying (intentionally or subconsciously) based on inconsistent answers across the hundreds of questions
    – Kevin
    Dec 6, 2021 at 18:43
  • For the sake of transparency I have never taken an MMPI test, but I have done data entry of other people's tests and seen the output scores (anonymized of course), which means I've seen a wide gamut of what the scores can look like
    – Kevin
    Dec 6, 2021 at 18:45
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    I took that MMPI when I needed to clear to be onsite in a very secure location and, boy, it seemed like such nonsense! However, the psychologist who administered it, I don't remember why we even got into a chat since the goal was just to get my clearance, asked an interesting question -- he asked if I had something like chronic back pain and he was close enough to amaze me, since there was not a single question about pain on the test. I guess they just asked thousands of people and found correlations between score or answers in certain areas and things like health issues.
    – releseabe
    Jun 4, 2022 at 1:46

Tyrell's point in the "more human than human" speech is that humanity is a design feature: replicants are literally designed to be better humans. And they are clearly superior to the de-humanised remnants of the human race who remain earthbound.

Batty exemplifies this superiority by sparing Deckard's life, having already defeated him physically. He could easily kill Deckard - or just let him die - but he actually saves him because he knows Deckard has something to live for, whereas he, Batty, has no choice.

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    I -1'd. You're repeating the same point about "more human than human" as is in the question: They're better. Except I was asking about empathy, not morality. Morality is certainly informed by empathy and sympathy, but is not equivalent. So I'm afraid you're not answering my question.
    – Flambino
    Oct 18, 2015 at 21:22
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    You're right. Batty is more interesting if he makes decisions based on something akin to character rather than mere programming. Oct 19, 2015 at 20:36
  • Yeah, and it's also just a complex scene. My reading is that Roy's shout of "Kinship!" is because Deckard, for a brief moment, knows he will die. That's what Roy's been living with. So now, does Roy save him because Roy is morally superior? Because he feels sorry? Because he selfishly wants to keep his "kin" around? Or because he's about to give the greatest death speech in cinema, and wants an audience? Roy's level of morality and/or his level of empathy is hard to decipher from that scene. Or maybe "kinship" refers to Deckard being a Replicant, but that's too simple to be fun :)
    – Flambino
    Oct 20, 2015 at 11:40

I would suggest that replicants, born as adults, lack empathy due to lack of human experience: no mothers, no fathers. They seemed interested in forming relationships in Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. So if their apparent lack of empathy and perhaps other normal human emotional responses stems from inexperience, not an intrinsic deficit, then their level of empathy would vary based on the experiences that they could manage to pack into their brief lives. If Rachael seemed more human, which she did, it was implied that this came from experiences she acquired via memory implants.

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