Cognitive Science, Interventions, Psychology Anxiety is becoming more and more prevalent with the CDC citing more than 25.5% of American adults exhibiting symptoms of anxiety disorder in a 2020 study. Barriers such as cost and compliance with best practices can limit access to effective treatment for anxiety. Social robots can provide a solution for some […]23 Nov 2023
A Social Robot for Anxiety Reduction*
November 19, 2023
Cognitive Science, Interventions, Psychology
Anxiety is becoming more and more prevalent with the CDC citing more than 25.5% of American adults exhibiting symptoms of anxiety disorder in a 2020 study. Barriers such as cost and compliance with best practices can limit access to effective treatment for anxiety. Social robots can provide a solution for some of these barriers as they can provide consistent treatment and have the potential to be cost-effective.
Comparing Social Robots That Have Been Created To Treat Anxiety
The authors based their work on research involving other social robots. This included CAKNA, a robot that verbally guides users through psychological techniques such as deep breathing and was shown to be more effective in reducing anxiety levels than a computer. Jibo, another social robot, provided measurable improvements in well-being.
Positive Results Shown After a Session With the Robot
Ommie, the social robot in this study, was designed to be calming and engaging, provide instruction on deep breathing, and include a haptic experience (designed for users to feel comfortable with touching the robot and feeling its breathing). The study included two cohorts: the first was a wellness cohort made up of 21 participants ages 18-38. The second cohort was focused on anxiety and made up of 22 people ages 18-29 who were actively treating anxiety-related disorders with medical professionals. Each breathing session lasted 15-20 minutes. The results indicated a measurable drop in anxiety in the anxiety cohort. Both cohorts noted positive regard for the robot. All participants saw improvement in at least one aspect of their anxiety levels after a session with the robot.
A Companion That Can Reduce Anxiety
The authors noted that the haptic interaction was powerful for the participants as they could use their sense of touch to help guide their breathing. The participants also viewed the robot as a companion which the authors believe to be potentially beneficial. It was also noted that the participants held the robot in a variety of ways including on the robot’s “shoulders” and “stomach”. Overall the authors concluded that Ommie could potentially be a good way to guide people through deep breathing techniques to reduce anxiety.
“Social robots have the capacity to help solve some of these challenges by providing distributed and consistent coaching, monitoring, compliance support, and companionship.”
“Multiple participants also preferred the robot’s non-verbal guidance, inclusive of both the haptic movements and audio chimes, to verbal meditation.”
“When asked about their overall experience with the robot, many users commented on how “natural”, “easy”, and “intuitive” it felt.
While the use of a robot for social-emotional learning and counseling practices isn’t something I have encountered or expect to encounter in my work as a school-based educator, it was interesting to see the barriers that the robot eliminated. The robot provided consistent, replicable, customizable, and best-practice guidance for the users. As educators, we often encounter the barrier of time and adjusting our instruction for the needs of each individual we work with. It is interesting to see how technology can assist with this.—Matt Browne
Matheus, K., Vázquez, M., & Scassellati, B. (2022, August). A social robot for´ anxiety reduction via deep breathing. In 2022 31st IEEE International Conference on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN) (pp. 89-94). IEEE.
*This article was summarized in the April edition of MARIO Connect, but this is an updated version of that summary.