Children’s evaluations of a therapy dog and biomimetic robot: influences of animistic beliefs and social interaction

Olivia Bonita Barber*, Eszter Somogyi, Anne E. McBride, Leanne Proops*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Social robots are being used increasingly across a range of settings, including in the context of therapeutic interactions with children. While research has shown that interaction with live therapy dogs can be calming and enjoyable for children, it is currently unclear whether social robots can produce similar outcomes. In this study, 11-12-year old children completed a questionnaire about their biophilic beliefs and attitudes to dogs and robots before engaging in two separate free-play, non-goal directed, non-therapeutic sessions with an interactive biomimetic MiRo-E robot and a living therapy dog in a controlled setting. Behavioural observations of social interaction, initiation and reaction behaviours by the child and dog/robot showed that participants spent a similar amount of time engaging in positive social touch with the robot and the dog, but overall more time interacting with the robot. This may be because the robot was more responsive to the children’s initiation behaviours. In selfreport, participants significantly preferred the session with the living dog. However, overall enjoyment was high and more positive emotions were reported following interaction with the robot. The more participants attributed mental attributes and animacy to the dog/robot, the more they enjoyed the interactions, demonstrating that participants’ animistic beliefs were an important factor in their evaluations. Levels of social interaction did not correlate with enjoyment, suggesting that the nature of the interaction was less important than pre-existing participant attitudes in producing reported positive outcomes. Although there were some differences in behaviour and evaluations, these preliminary results suggest that MiRo-E provides a useful comparison to therapy dogs and may be a suitable alternative for use in interventions with children.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Social Robotics
Early online date9 Dec 2020
Publication statusEarly online - 9 Dec 2020


  • RCUK
  • ESRC
  • ES/P000673/1
  • animal assisted activities
  • robot assisted activities
  • human-animal interactions
  • Human-robot interactions
  • therapy dog
  • MiRO


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