Robotic pets could help to reduce loneliness in care homes and hospitals

Five different types of robotic pets were used in the study; a cat, a dog, a bear and a seal.

James McKay
9 May 2019
Para the Seal

Robopets increased social interaction with other residents, family members, and staff.

Researchers have found that robotic pets, or ‘robopets’, can provide comfort and pleasure and reduce agitation and loneliness, a study from the University of Exeter Medical School has found.

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The study also found that robopets increase social interaction with other residents, family members, and staff, often through acting as a stimulus for conversation.

Robopets are small animal-like robots which have the appearance and many of the behavioral characteristics of companion animals or pets.

Five different types of robotic pets were used throughout the study; cat robots Necoro and Justocat, Sony’s Aibo dog, bear Cuddler and the baby seal Paro.

The researchers acknowledged that not everyone liked robopets. Knowing whether someone likes animals, or previously had a pet of their own, was likely to impact on how much they might engage the robotic animal.

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‘Stimulating conversations or triggering memories’.

Lead author Dr. Rebecca Abbott, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Although not every care home resident may choose to interact with robopets, for those who do, they appear to offer many benefits.

“Some of these are around stimulating conversations or triggering memories of their own pets or past experiences, and there is also the comfort of touching or interacting with the robopet itself. The joy of having something to care for was a strong finding across many of the studies.”

Co-author Dr. Noreen Orr said: “It is not always possible to have a cat or a dog come into a care home, so robopets can offer a good alternative.

“Of course robopets are no substitute for human interaction, but our research shows that for those who choose to engage with them, they can have a range of benefits. A new wave of more affordable robopets may make them more accessible to care homes.”

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The researchers recommended that future work could examine whether the benefits are short-term or sustained over time.

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