Innovation That Matters

Nao robot shaking hands with study co-author Dr Micol Spitale | Photo source Rachel Gardner

Robots could better assess child mental health

Health & Wellbeing

A study from the University of Cambridge used a humanoid robot to administer child mental health questionnaires

Spotted: In recent years, innovation in child mental health has been in the spotlight with anxiety and depression among children on the rise. This trend has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as children have faced unprecedented levels of stress and isolation, as well as a reduction in extracurricular activities. A recent study by the University of Cambridge has found that robots could be a useful addition to traditional methods of mental health assessment for children.

The study, which was conducted with 28 children and a child-sized humanoid robot, found that the robot was able to administer psychological questionnaires to assess the mental wellbeing of the participants. The assessment consisted of a one-to-one 45-minute session with a 60-centimetre robot, which the children would speak and interact with while it carried out the various standardised tests. Sensors were used to track participants’ heartbeat and head and eye movements during the session. The team behind the study believes that this could be a valuable tool in helping to identify and address anxiety and depression among children, especially in light of the fact that resources to address mental wellbeing are severely limited.

While all the participants said they enjoyed talking with the robot, the study found that children interacted with the robots differently depending on their level of wellbeing. Children less likely to be experiencing mental wellbeing-related problems responded more positively to questionnaires when interacting with the robot compared to a traditional online approach. However, children that might be experiencing wellbeing-related concerns rated more negatively in response to the questionnaire, possibly because the robot acted as a safe way to share feelings and experiences.

The results were recently presented at the 31st IEEE International Conference on Robot & Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN) in Naples, Italy. Up next, the team hopes to expand the number of participants, follow them over time, and study interactions with the robot via video chat. While it is still early days, this research provides an intriguing glimpse into how innovation in child mental health may help us to better understand and support our young people. 

While robots will never be a replacement for human interaction, the results show that they could be a useful tool for psychological assessment.

Springwise has seen a plethora of innovations arising at the intersection of mental health assessment and AI, including smart video games that assess mental health, an AI-powered mental health companion, and a national wellbeing app to tackle mental health in the hospitality sector

Written By: Katrina Lane

Mental health is a complex issue, and those in need of urgent help can find information about the services available on the United for Global Mental Health website.

Email: ms2871@cam.ac.uk

Website: ras.papercept.net

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