A Robot's Can-Do Attitude Rubs Off On Children

 

According to Timothy Revell's recent article in New Scientist, a robot's can-do attitude might be able to rub off on children. Timothy writes "It seems that children's behaviour can be influenced by the personality of a robot companion - playing with an enthusiastic or attentive robot, for instance, makes them engage more and work harder."

Aim

The aim of the experiment, according to Goren Gordon at Tel Aviv University in Israel, is "to have a companion that has all of the behaviours that we want to instil and promote in a child."

Method

Researchers ran a series of experiments with Tega, a companion robot that looks like a cross between a Furby and a Telletubby. The robot was programmed with different responses to test how their personality would affect a child's behaviour. 

- 40 children played a puzzle game against Tega.

- For half of the children, the robot had a "neutral" personality, meaning that if it won a puzzle, it would say something like "I solved the puzzle" and when it lost, it would say "That was hard."

- For the second half of the group, Tega had more of a can-do attitude. When it won, it might say "That was hard, I tried hard and nailed it" and when it lost it might say "You worked hard and succeeded!"

Findings

The differences in the robot's personality and phrasing were subtle, but the effect on the children's reactions was not. "We found that the children in the second group tried much harder, and when they lost, they were far more determined to win - they had grit" says Hae Won Park who led the research. These children also made more attempts to complete the puzzles. The robot demonstrated that effort pays off and it likes challenges.

Conclusions

It is hard to tell what the long term effects of a robot's personality will have on a child's attitude to learning, as the positive findings may be linked to the "novelty effect" from the child's first encounter of the robot. The researchers are hoping that Tega may be useful in a home and school environment.

Sarah Cameron