Having pets for companionship can benefit your physical and emotional health, but there are some situations which can prevent you from having a furry companion. Responsibilities, allergies, logistics, and schedules can get in the way of having the addition of an animal to your life. Companionship (specifically the type of companionship that animals provide) can be a great way to extend the quality of life in older people or in people with disabilities and special needs; but it can be hard to manage in certain situations.
Could the same benefits come from robotic pets? Research going back to 2005, 2013, and more current research says that robotic animals can provide the same benefits as living animals!
A notable study about robotic pets was conducted in 2013 with a robotic seal pet, named Paro, in a residential living facility. This randomized controlled trial exposed residents to twice weekly sessions for an hour each over a period of 12 weeks. There was a control group which did not receive any sessions with the robot. The residential living facility already had a resident dog.
Before their sessions, the residents were pre-screened for quality of life status and cognitive status. The residents were observed for behavior and their levels of interaction with the robot, such as talking to and petting it. The residents who interacted with Paro were significantly less lonely after the trial, and the residents chose to spend more time with the robot. They talked to it and petted it more frequently than even the resident dog! As well as talking to the dog, the conversations between the residents about the robot occurred more than the conversations about the dog, enhancing socialization and connections among the residents.
Previously, in 2005, a robotic dog from Sony called AIBO was analyzed for how receptive children would be towards it compared to a live dog. The study involved 72 children aged 7 to 15 years old. The children did warm up to the robot dog and interacted with it in similar ways to the live Australian Shepherd dog, but they spent more time next to the live dog and stayed within arms-length distance with the Aussie. Technology has come a long way since 2005, so it may be that it wasn’t as well received because it wasn’t as lifelike as it could be.
Most recently, a study in 2017 followed robotic pets for treating adults with dementia found that robotic animals decreased both anxiety, stress, and reduced the need for pain medications or other psychoactive medications.
While you can easily find robotic pets aimed for children, the ones used for these studies were not your average “Littlest Live Pets.” I haven’t located where you can find your own robotic seal, but there are some pets that are available without going through a doctor or therapist. Try a cute, orange tabby cat from the brand Memorable Pets developed by geriatric and memory care specialists or this adorable golden retriever puppy that even has a heartbeat! For comfort at bedtime, this chocolate Labrador puppy’s body moves while it breathes and snores (also available in other breeds and cats). People of all ages needing a little extra comfort, such as children with anxiety–especially bedtime anxiety—and other special needs or autism, and the elderly can all benefit from these joyful and cute solutions for creative companionship.
Moyle, Wendy, et al. “Effect of an Interactive Therapeutic Robotic Animal on Engagement, Mood States, Agitation and Psychotropic Drug Use in People with Dementia: a Cluster-Randomised Controlled Trial Protocol.” BMJ Open, vol. 5, no. 8, 12 Aug. 2015.
Petersen, S., et al. “The Utilization of Robotic Pets in Dementia Care.” J Alzheimers Dis., vol. 55, no. 2, 2017, pp. 569–574., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27716673.
Melson, Gail F., et al. “Robots as Dogs?: Children's Interactions with the Robotic Dog AIBO and a Live Australian Shepherd.” Conference: Extended Abstracts Proceedings of the 2005 Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems, Jan. 2005, doi:10.1145/1056808.1056988.
Robinson, Hayley, et al. “The Psychosocial Effects of a Companion Robot: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, vol. 14, no. 9, Sept. 2013, pp. 661–667., doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2013.02.007.