Robots can be used to detect mental health problems in children: Cambridge study

A robot could be better than parents at detecting mental wellbeing issues in children.

That’s according to a team of roboticists, computer scientists and psychiatrists from the University of Cambridge who found that children were more willing to confide in a child-sized humanoid robot about the state of their mental well-being than questionnaires given online or in person. .

As part of the study, researchers gave 28 participating children, ages 8 to 13, a child-sized humanoid robot that asked them a series of questions about their mental well-being. The robot asked open-ended questions about happy and sad memories and administered several questionnaires measuring mood and mental health.

Either way, the kids enjoyed talking with the robot and sharing information they hadn’t shared online or in person.

The researchers conclude that the robots could “detect mental wellbeing problems in children better than parent-reported or self-reported tests,” and could be used in addition to traditional mental health assessment methods.

Study author and Ph.D. student Nida Itrat Abbasi notes, “Since the robot we’re using is child-sized and completely non-threatening, children can see the robot as a confidant – they have feel like they won’t get in trouble if they share secrets with him.”

Robot Nao
The humanoid robot Nao

Rachel Gardner—University of Cambridge

Between the physical world and the world of the screen

The study has broad implications for how robots can be used to augment mental health care for children who have suffered during the pandemic. School closures, financial pressures and isolation from peers and friends could impact children’s mental health for years to come, Unicef ​​says, as resources to tackle the problem have been severely stretched. limited.

Professor Hatice Gunes argues that children are tactile and are drawn to technology. “If they’re using a screen-based tool, they’re removed from the physical world. But robots are great because they’re in the physical world – they’re more interactive, so kids are more engaged.

The children talked to the humanoid robot, Nao, who was about 60cm (2ft) tall, while attached to sensors that tracked their heartbeats, head and eye movements. The child’s parents or guardians observed the interaction from an adjacent room.

Prior to each session, the children and their parent or guardian also completed a questionnaire to assess the child’s mental well-being. The researchers found that in children who struggled more with their mental health, “the robot may have allowed them to disclose their true feelings and experiences.”

Study co-author Micol Spitale said the findings do not mean robots should replace psychologists or other mental health professionals. since human expertise surpasses anything a robot can do.

“However, our work suggests that robots could be a useful tool to help children open up and share things they might not be comfortable sharing at first,” he adds. she.

The researchers are looking to expand their survey in the future, including more participants and following them over time. They are also looking to see if interacting with the bot via video chat would have the same results.

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