Can robots help with loneliness? An exploration of social robot adoption by lonely individuals

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Ananto, Rahatul Amin
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A growing area of human-robot interaction explores how robots, for example as companions, can be used to help people’s general wellness and improve quality of life. How-ever, there are some issues that are yet to be addressed, a) we do not know how people would use and adopt such robots in their everyday lives, and b) very little research has yet focused on social robots supporting people living with loneliness. Much of the relevant human-robot interaction (HRI) work focuses on situations such as living with dementia, or people suffering from depression, and these works generally target the older adult demographic. Loneliness, however, can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition. I designed an eight-week long study to investigate how lonely individuals may adopt a social robot in their everyday lives, and if the robot impacts their general well-ness and loneliness. I gave a social robotic dog to lonely individuals who kept it in their own homes, interacted with it, and reported on their experiences. I documented interaction trajectories and learnt about potential factors associated with the social robot adoption process. My results detail how lonely people may adopt or non-adopt a social robot over the first months of ownership, and if the robot has any impact on people’s wellness and loneliness. This is the first study to-date that investigates the adoption of social robotic pets for lonely individuals.
social robots, mental-health, loneliness, hri