Robots can be useful as mental well-being coaches in the workplace—but perception of their effectiveness depends in large part on what the robot looks like.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge carried out a study in a tech consultancy firm using two different robot well-being coaches, where 26 employees participated in weekly robot-led well-being sessions for four weeks. Although the robots had identical voices, facial expressions, and scripts for the sessions, the robots’ physical appearances affected how participants interacted with them.
Participants who did their well-being exercises with a toy-like robot said that they felt more of a connection with their “coach” than participants who worked with a humanoid-like robot. The researchers say that perception of robots is affected by popular culture, where the only limit on what robots can do is the imagination. When faced with a robot in the real world however, it often does not live up to expectations.
Since the toy-like robot looks simpler, participants may have had lower expectations and ended up finding the robot easier to talk connect with. Participants who worked with the humanoid robot found that their expectations didn’t match reality, since the robot was not capable of having interactive conversations.
Despite the differences between expectations and reality, the researchers say that their study shows that robots can be a useful tool to promote mental well-being in the workplace. The results will be reported today (March 15) at the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction in Stockholm.
The World Health Organization recommends that employers take action to promote and protect mental well-being at work, but the implementation of well-being practices is often limited by a lack of resources and personnel. Robots have shown some early promise for helping address this gap, but most studies on robots and well-being have been conducted in a laboratory setting.
“We wanted to take the robots out of the lab and study how they might be useful in the real world,” said Dr. Micol Spitale, the paper’s first author.