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by Sofia Villegas
04 December 2023
Robots could help ease loneliness in humans, study finds

Social robot 'Pepper' | Creative Commons

Robots could help ease loneliness in humans, study finds

A study by the University of Glasgow has revealed social robots as a potential tool against loneliness. 

The findings come as financial pressures are set to bring a wave of loneliness in Scotland. 

Last year, a poll by YouGov for the British Red Cross showed that 81 per cent of Scottish people agreed that the increased cost of living will make more people lonely.  

Guy Laban, affiliated research associate at the University of Glasgow, said: “Our study lays the foundation for building relationships with robots, positioning them as valuable conversational partners, and providing crucial evidence for their potential inclusion in interventions supporting emotional health. 

“It is exciting to see how this technology can be used for social good, providing meaning and a safe space to those in need.” 

Aiming to examine the long-term and repeated use of social robots, researchers introduced around forty people across the UK to a robot named ‘Pepper’ via Zoom. 

The research – which took place during the pandemic – showed that robot-human interaction boosted self-disclosure and reduced feelings of isolation. 

Over the five-week course of the study, participants spoke for longer, shared more information and enjoyed an overall improvement in their mood. 

With a survey by the Mental Health Foundation showing almost one-third of those suffering from loneliness agreeing it has a negative effect on their mental health, the research suggests robots may become a measure to enhance emotional health in the future.    

Consequently, the technology could prevent feelings of isolation from becoming more serious mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. 

Laban also pointed out how the study was "crucial" as it showed how to "establish healthy and constructive" artificial intelligence-human relationships, essential for the “ethical and responsible deployment” of the innovative technology.  

The findings have also been published in the International Journal of Social Robotics.

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