Robots are better than humans at detecting mental well-being issues in children
Researchers in the U.K. say that robots may find mental health problems better than tests reported by parents or that children do themselves.
A new study, conducted by the researchers behind a presentation at the 31st IEEE International Conference on Robot & Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN) in Naples, Italy, states that robots could be for mental health assessment.
Traditional methods might not be able to catch mental well-being in children, so we wanted to evaluate whether robots could help with the process. When children are sad or happy, changes can be tough to detect.
Environmental factors contribute to children's mental health, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and pressures on parents combined with isolation. There are increased levels of anxiety and depression in Britain before the pandemic, but services to support their mental well-being are sparse.
What happens when children interact with robots?
The roboticists and computer scientists worked with psychiatrists from the University of Cambridge to study 28 children aged 8-13. The group completed several tests in their one-to-one session with an NAO robot. It was about 60 cm tall.
Participants interacted with the robot, telling it what to do via voice commands or touching its sensors throughout the session. Additional sensors tracked their heartbeat, head, and eye movements.
Professor Gunes, at the department of computer science at Cambridge University, was quoted saying that robots are more interactive and engaging than screen-based tools. Adults and children alike can benefit from the physical features of a robot.
Before each session, the children and their parents completed a mental health questionnaire.
Four different tasks the robot performed during each session:
- It asked open-ended questions about happy and sad memories over the last week.
- It administered the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (SMFQ).
- They administered a picture task inspired by the Children’s Apperception Test (CAT), where children answered questions related to the pictures.
- It administered the Revised Children’s Anxiety and Depression Scale (RCADS) for generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and low mood.
Robots are better than humans at detecting mental well-being in children. The children with mental well-being concerns interacted differently with the robot. The researchers found that for children who are not experiencing mental well-being-related problems, interacting with the robot led to more positive response ratings. However, for children experiencing mental well-being-related concerns, the robot may have enabled them to divulge their true feelings and experiences, leading to more negative response ratings.
Children are more likely to divulge private information to a robot than adults, according to Ms. Abbasi. She said children might feel safe and comfortable telling secrets to the robot because it is small and non-threatening.
With a time-efficient robot, children are confident in confiding in the robot. And the robot was revealed to be similar to their standard assessment methods of an online questionnaire or in-person interview.
With robots at their side, doctors and therapists can provide children with a better life. And still making sure they are safe. Robots are not to be a substitute for professional mental health support.
"Robots can help human therapists and physicians by increasing their efficiency and helping them better serve those they care for," said Micol. However, robots will not replace professionals as their expertise exceeds the AI's capabilities.
The researchers hope to expand their survey in the future with more participants and follow them over time.