Robots could help children with their mental health, says study

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Researchers at the University of Cambridge made a child-sized humanoid robot will complete a series of questionnaires with 28 children between the ages of eight and 13 to assess their mental well-being.

The study allowed them to discover that the little ones were willing to trust the robotsometimes sharing information they hadn’t yet shared through online or in-person questionnaires.

Experts say robots could be a useful addition to traditional mental health screening methods, although they are not intended to be a substitute for professional support in that field.

Nida Itrat Abbasi, lead author of the study and PhD student, said: “Since the robot we use is child-sized and completely non-threatening, children may view the robot as a confidant; they feel they won’t get in trouble if they share secrets with him”.

Other researchers have found that children are more likely to divulge private information, such as that they are being bullied, to a robot, for example, than to an adult”, he added.

How the study was conducted

According to information cited by the Metro website, each child participated in a 45-minute individual session with a Nao robot, a humanoid robot about 60 centimeters tall.

girl and robot

A parent or guardian and members of the research team watched from an adjoining room. Before each session, the children and their parents or guardians completed standard online questionnaires to assess the child’s mental well-being.

Participants interacted with the robot throughout the session by talking to it or touching sensors on the robot’s hands and feet.. With additional sensors they tracked the heartbeat, head and eye movements of the participants during the session.

All study participants said they enjoyed talking to the robot and some shared information with the robot that they had not shared in person or in the online questionnaire.

Co-author Dr Micol Spitale explained: “Our work suggests that robots could be a useful tool to help children open up and share things they might not initially feel comfortable sharing.”.

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