Science

Robots could be useful for assessing children’s mental well-being

VITAL

  • Since the beginning of 2021, there has been an increase in emergency department visits for suicidal gestures, suicidal ideation, and mood disorders in children aged 11-17 (college, high school).
  • France ranks 7th in terms of child well-being and mental health.

For the first time, robots have been used to assess the mental well-being of children. A team of roboticists, computer scientists and psychiatrists from the University of Cambridge conducted a study involving 28 children aged 8 to 13. They each took part in a 45-minute one-on-one session with Nao, a child-sized humanoid robot (about 60 centimeters tall). A parent or guardian, along with members of the research team, watched them from a side room.

Children are more likely to trust robots

Before each session, the children and their parents or guardians filled out a standard online questionnaire to assess the mental well-being of study participants. The children were then willing to trust the robot, in some cases sharing information that they had not disclosed either in person or on an online questionnaire. They all said that they enjoyed interacting with the robot.

“Children are quite tactile, and they are drawn to technology. If they use a screen-based tool, they are removed from the physical world. But robots are great because they are in the physical world – they are more interactive, so kids are more involved,” study co-author Hatice Gunes said in a statement.

The researchers say robots could be a useful addition to traditional assessment methods without replacing mental health professionals.

Mental health deteriorated due to Covid

They also said they want to expand their survey in the future to include more participants and track them over time. They are also exploring whether similar results can be achieved if children interact with the robot via video chat.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, homeschooling, financial hardship and isolation from peers and friends have exacerbated many of children’s mental health issues, but resources and support for their well-being are very limited.






















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