Recent research that came out of the University of Cambridge suggests that a toy-like robot may enhance mental well-being in the workplace.
During the course of the research project, which was carried out at a technology consultancy company, a total of 26 employees participated in weekly robot-led well-being sessions for a period of four weeks.
“We wanted to take the robots out of the lab and study how they might be useful in the real world,” the first author Dr. Micol Spitale, from Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology said.
The sessions were led by one of two types of robots designed as well-being coaches: a humanoid robot and a toy-like robot. They were given the option of using either the QTRobot (QT) or the Misty II robot to assist them with a series of four distinct wellness activities spread out over the course of a period of four weeks (Misty). The QT is a humanoid robot, while Misty is more of a toy-like robot.
The participants’ interactions with the robot were influenced by its physical appearance, despite the fact that all of the robots in the sessions had the same voices, facial expressions, and scripts.
After the sessions, participants were given a questionnaire to fill out as well as an interview to do on the robot. The participants participated in one session each week for a total of four weeks and worked with the same robot throughout all of the sessions.
Results of the Study
Participants who worked with the toy-like robot for their wellness exercises reported having a better connection with their ‘coach’ than individuals who worked with the humanoid-like robot for their exercises.
The researchers believe that the public’s image of robots is shaped by popular culture, in which the human mind is the only thing that limits what robots are capable of doing. Nevertheless, when one comes face to face with a robot in the real world, it does not always live up to expectations.
“It could be that since the Misty robot is more toy-like, it matched their expectations,” said Spitale. He further said, “But since QT is more humanoid, they expected it to behave like a human, which may be why participants who worked with QT were slightly underwhelmed.”
It’s possible that the participants had lower expectations for the robot since it looked like a toy, which is why they found it easier to converse with and bond with.
Participants who worked with the humanoid robot discovered that their expectations did not match reality since the robot was unable to have engaging dialogues. This led to the participants’ disappointment.
Robots May Help Boost Mental Wellness
The researchers believe that their study demonstrates that robots may be a beneficial tool to boost mental wellness in the workplace. Notwithstanding the contrasts between expectations and reality, the researchers argue that their study indicates that robots can be useful.
Good morning #Kamloops! Could your new therapist be a robot? Join me on @CBCKamloops to hear how #AI could revolutionize #mentalhealth policy and practice. Thx for having me @DHerbertCBC! #psychology #artificialintelligence #ChatGPT #therapy #technology #britishcolumbia #psych pic.twitter.com/ENqF3xNY3t
— Laura Cavanagh (she/her) (@profcavanagh) March 13, 2023
The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that employers take action to promote and safeguard mental health at work. However, the implementation of well-being practices is often hindered by a lack of resources and staff. Robots have demonstrated some early promise for helping to bridge this gap.
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