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Could Robots Make Good Counselors?

Summary: A new study reports social robots may be good counselors. Researchers say the NAO robot is able to provide a helpful motivational interview, a technique used by counselors to support behavior change.

Source: University of Plymouth.

New research has shown for the first time that a social robot can deliver a ‘helpful’ and ‘enjoyable’ motivational interview (MI) – a counselling technique designed to support behaviour change.

Many participants in the University of Plymouth study praised the ‘non-judgemental’ nature of the humanoid NAO robot as it delivered its session – with one even saying they preferred it to a human.

Led by the School of Psychology, the study also showed that the robot achieved a fundamental objective of MI as it encouraged participants, who wanted to increase their physical activity, to articulate their goals and dilemmas aloud.

MI is a technique that involves the counsellor supporting and encouraging someone to talk about their need for change, and their reasons for wanting to change.

The role of the interviewer in MI is mainly to evoke a conversation about change and commitment, and the robot was programmed with a set script designed to elicit ideas and conversation on how someone could increase their physical activity.

robot

MI is a technique that involves the counsellor supporting and encouraging someone to talk about their need for change, and their reasons for wanting to change. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to the researchers.

When finished answering each question, the participant taped the top of NAO’s head to continue, with some sessions lasting up to an hour.

Lead academic Professor Jackie Andrade explained that, because they are perceived as nonjudgmental, robots may have advantages over more humanoid avatars for delivering virtual support for behavioral change.

“We were pleasantly surprised by how easily the participants adapted to the unusual experience of discussing their lifestyle with a robot,” she said. “As we have shown for the first time that a motivational interview delivered by a social robot can elicit out-loud discussion from participants. In addition, the participants perceived the interaction as enjoyable, interesting and helpful. Participants found it especially useful to hear themselves talking about their behaviour aloud, and liked the fact that the robot didn’t interrupt, which suggests that this new intervention has a potential advantage over other technology-delivered adaptations of MI.”

“Concern about being judged by a human interviewer came across strongly in praise for the non-judgemental nature of the robot, suggesting that robots may be particularly helpful for eliciting talk about sensitive issues. The next stage is to undertake a quantitative study, where we can measure whether participants felt that the intervention actually increased their activity levels.”

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: The study was run by Joana Galvão Gomes da Silva as part of her doctoral research in the University of Plymouth’s CogNovo programme. CogNovo is an Innovative Doctoral Programme, funded by the EU Marie Curie initiative and the University of Plymouth, to foster research training in the emerging field of cognitive innovation.

Source: University of Plymouth
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to the researchers.
Video Credit: Video credited to University of Plymouth.
Original Research: Abstract for “Experiences of a Motivational Interview Delivered by a Robot: Qualitative Study” by Galvão Gomes da Silva J, Kavanagh DJ, Belpaeme T, Taylor L, Beeson K, and Andrade J in Journal of Medical Internet Research. Published May 2018.
doi:10.2196/jmir.7737

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
University of Plymouth”Could Robots Make Good Counselors?.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 5 May 2018.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/robot-counselors-8971/>.
University of Plymouth(2018, May 5). Could Robots Make Good Counselors?. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved May 5, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/robot-counselors-8971/
University of Plymouth”Could Robots Make Good Counselors?.” http://neurosciencenews.com/robot-counselors-8971/ (accessed May 5, 2018).

Abstract

Experiences of a Motivational Interview Delivered by a Robot: Qualitative Study

Background: Motivational interviewing is an effective intervention for supporting behavior change but traditionally depends on face-to-face dialogue with a human counselor. This study addressed a key challenge for the goal of developing social robotic motivational interviewers: creating an interview protocol, within the constraints of current artificial intelligence, which participants will find engaging and helpful.

Objective: The aim of this study was to explore participants’ qualitative experiences of a motivational interview delivered by a social robot, including their evaluation of usability of the robot during the interaction and its impact on their motivation.

Methods: NAO robots are humanoid, child-sized social robots. We programmed a NAO robot with Choregraphe software to deliver a scripted motivational interview focused on increasing physical activity. The interview was designed to be comprehensible even without an empathetic response from the robot. Robot breathing and face-tracking functions were used to give an impression of attentiveness. A total of 20 participants took part in the robot-delivered motivational interview and evaluated it after 1 week by responding to a series of written open-ended questions. Each participant was left alone to speak aloud with the robot, advancing through a series of questions by tapping the robot’s head sensor. Evaluations were content-analyzed utilizing Boyatzis’ steps: (1) sampling and design, (2) developing themes and codes, and (3) validating and applying the codes.

Results: Themes focused on interaction with the robot, motivation, change in physical activity, and overall evaluation of the intervention. Participants found the instructions clear and the navigation easy to use. Most enjoyed the interaction but also found it was restricted by the lack of individualized response from the robot. Many positively appraised the nonjudgmental aspect of the interview and how it gave space to articulate their motivation for change. Some participants felt that the intervention increased their physical activity levels.

Conclusions: Social robots can achieve a fundamental objective of motivational interviewing, encouraging participants to articulate their goals and dilemmas aloud. Because they are perceived as nonjudgmental, robots may have advantages over more humanoid avatars for delivering virtual support for behavioral change.

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