Huggable: The Impact of Embodiment on Promoting Socio-emotional Interactions for Young Pediatric Inpatients

Jeong, Sooyeon, et al. "Huggable: The Impact of Embodiment on Promoting Socio-emotional Interactions for Young Pediatric Inpatients." Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2018.


Most hospitals make efforts to provide socio-emotional support for patients and their families during care. In order to expand the service provided by certified child life specialists, we created a social robot and a virtual avatar that augment part of the care CCLS offers to patients by engaging pediatric patients in playful interactions and promoting their socio-emotional wellbeing. We ran a randomized controlled trial in a form of a Wizard-of-Oz study at a local pediatric hospital to study how three different interactive media (a plush teddy bear, a virtual agent on a screen, and a social robot) influence the pediatric patient’s affect, joyful play, and social interactions with others. Behavioral analyses of verbal utterance transcriptions and children’s physical behavior revealed that the social robot is most effective in producing socially energetic conversations as well as increasing positivity and promoting multi-party interactions. The virtual avatar was socially engaging but children tended to attend more exclusively to a virtual avatar and were less responsive to others. The plush toy was least engaging of the three interventions, but children touched it the most. Based on these findings, we recommend use cases for each agent appropriate for individual pediatric patients’ health conditions and needs. These analyses of behavioral data suggest the benefit of deploying a physically embodied social robot in pediatric inpatient-care contexts on young patients’ social and emotional wellbeing.

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