Can Robotic Companions Ease A Child's Fear? The value of pet therapy for helping a child manage the pain and emotional effects of a serious illness is well-documented.

Unfortunately, companion animals are not always available for this valuable method of stress relief.

A fascinating new study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking provides a high-tech solution in the form of robotic animals.

Sandra Okita, Ph.D., of Columbia University evaluated the effectiveness of robotic companions to reduce feelings of pain and emotional anxiety among pediatric patients and their parents.

In the study, Okita reports that when a child and parent were together during robot therapy sessions, the patients’ pain ratings decreased significantly. But there were no differences in the pain ratings when the child interacted with the robot animal without the parent present.

When both the parent and child were together for the robot therapy sessions, as the parent’s pain rating decreased, so did the patient’s.

Researchers attribute this discovery to “parental modeling.” Children learn how to cope with emotions such as fear and anxiety by observing how an adult responds and behaving in a similar manner.

“It will be useful to explore in future studies whether the benefit of parental modeling exhibited during the interactions is maintained long-term,” said Brenda K. Wiederhold, Ph.D., M.B.A., B.C.I.A., editor of the journal.

“It will also be important to understand how we may lower pain and anxiety in children without the presence of their parents, which is of course not always feasible in a hospital setting.”

Source: Mary Ann Liebert

Healthcare robotic photo by shutterstock.