Robotic Pets and Children: A Developmental Study

June 15, 2009 — Leave a comment

From ISAZ Newsletter, Number 29 [pdf]:

Robotic Pets and Children: A Developmental Study by
Gail F. Melson, Alan M. Beck, Peter Kahn, and Batya Friedman (University of Washington)

All data has now been collected for our study of children across three age groups (7-8, 10-11, 13- 14 years) as they separately interact with a live specially trained dog and with a robotic dog (Sony’s AIBO). The analysis is now underway and international presentations of the data are scheduled. Children aged 7-9 yrs. (n=26), 10-12 yrs. (n=24), and 13-15 yrs. (n=21), half boys, participated. After a 5-min. play session with AIBO, each child completed a 20-min. interview, with AIBO present and “on.” The same play session and interview was conducted with “Canis,” an Australian Shepherd. As part of the interview, each child was asked whether or not the target dog possessed biological properties, social companionship, and moral standing. Most dog type comparisons were significant.

For 23 of 25 questions, fewer children affirmed AIBO’s (as compared to Canis’) biology, psychology, companionship, or moral standing. However, more children endorsed punishing Canis (80%) than AIBO (51%) for breaking something expensive. Children unanimously affirmed Canis’ biology, at least 70% of children affirmed all mental state and companionship questions about Canis, and at least 80% stated it was “not OK” to cause Canis harm (5 questions). However, over 50% of children also affirmed AIBO’s mental states (4 of 6 questions), companionship (5 of 6 questions) and moral standing (6 of 7 questions). In summary, while children sharply distinguish living and robotic dogs, most children attribute psychological, companionship and moral standing (but not biology) to a robot dog, even after a brief exposure. Preliminary data were presented at the Tenth International Conference on Human- Animal Interactions, Glasgow, Scotland, October 8, 2004.

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