Exploring the role of aliveness in children's responses to a dog, biomimetic robot, and toy dog

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The Core Knowledge System of Agency states that children, from an early age, can discriminate between living agents and non-living artifacts. Building on this, the ‘Biophilia hypothesis’ suggests that children and adults have a natural affinity for living organisms and benefit from interacting with them. These theories may underpin the use of dogs for children's general wellbeing and for therapeutic purposes, yet it is presently unclear whether a comparable non-living artefact, such as social robot, could capitalise on similar mechanisms. In the current study, child members of the public aged 14-months to 14-years old (N = 115), engaged in free interactions with a dog, a MiRo-E biomimetic robot, and a basic moving toy dog, and then completed an age-appropriate questionnaire evaluating their attitudes towards the three animal/robots (N = 99). As was predicted, most participants preferred the dog, and behavioural observations indicated that participants approached the dog first most frequently and spent the longest duration engaged in positive behaviours with the dog. Participants also attributed the dog with higher mental state abilities than the robot, with several participants referring to the “aliveness” of the dog when explaining their preference. However, similar emotions were reported for all conditions and participants spent a comparable amount of time overall with the dog and robot, and participants engaged in more exploratory behaviours with the toy. This suggested that, whilst the children recognised the categorical distinction between the living status of the three entities, the robot provided an enjoyable experience for the children and sustained their attention. Therefore, a biomimetic robot has the potential to provide a valid alternative to a live dog in certain contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107660
Number of pages11
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Early online date19 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2023


  • UKRI
  • ESRC
  • ES/P000673/1
  • animal assisted interactions
  • robot assisted interactions
  • human-animal interactions
  • human-robot interactions
  • social robot
  • animism

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