Hayley Robinson, Bruce MacDonald, Ngaire Kerse, Elizabeth Broadbent (2013), The psychological effects of a companion robot: a randomized controlled trial, JAMDA

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A summary of “The Psychological Effects of a Companion Robot: A Randomized Controlled Trial”

As a struggle against the loneliness of elderly, animal therapy has been a very successful remedy. Having elderly get themselves a pet, someone to care for, has been a very successful way to ‘cure’ them from this psychological ‘disease’. However, the person would have to be able to care for the pet by feeding him/her, taking him/her on a walk etc. Additionally, it might be interesting to have someone care for that person, too; after all, this unsuspecting creature was part of its owner’s treatment without his/her knowledge. A robot companion replacing this pet would be able to take all the caring needs away, as well as monitor the owner’s health. As an interesting alternative, this study investigates what the effects of a robot companion would be.

Participants completed bassline measures assessing loneliness (UCLA Loneliness Scale), depression (Geriatric Depression Scale) and quality of life (Quality of Life for Alzheimer’s Disease). They would have interactions with Paro, a cute harp seal robot, 2 days a week for 12 weeks, after which they would complete those same bassline measures again. Results could be compared with interactions with the resident dog, who has been around even before the experiment began.

An important finding was that the robot, that was already known to have a positive effect on mood and the social atmosphere, was actually able to reduce loneliness. However, the robot also resulted in more interaction among participants than the dog would, which could be a factor in this decrease. A similar result was found in the United States with a dog robot named AIBO and a regular dog, compared to a control group that had neither. One of the most important findings of this study specifically, is that a companion robot can have affect comparable to a living animal on the social environment. Paro specifically is capable of reducing loneliness in elderly in elder care facilities.