Human—Robot companionship: A mixed-methods investigation

Katie Alexandra Riddoch
In recent years, the arts have brought robots to life in spectacular fashion. In popular fiction we have been presented with machines that can run, leap, fight, and (perhaps most impressively of all) robots which can ascend stairs with absolutely no trouble at all. Amidst these chaotic and often dystopian scenes, we are exposed to moments of humour and lightness – robots can be seen engaging in conversation, cracking jokes, and comforting someone in their time of need. In these relatively
more » ... e moments (as we smile, laugh, and cry) the impression emerges that the robot is something special to the person depicted. Rather than simply being a household appliance, it appears to be something more: a sort of... friend. Returning from the pages and screens of fiction to the real world, we find human society ever more fractured, and the loneliness epidemic at large. Unsurprisingly, given the engaging depictions in popular fiction, the idea of robots for companionship and social support is gaining traction and garnering increasing research attention. In care homes, robot animals can be found cooing and purring in the laps of individuals with dementia, while in schools, friendly humanoid robots may be seen teaching social skills to children with additional needs. What remains unknown, though, is the extent to which people will grow fond of such 'social robots' over time, and if so, whether their relationships with these machines might ever resemble (or indeed, replace) those with other humans. Is a 'robot friend' the stuff of science-fiction, or could it someday soon become sciencereality? In this thesis, this question is explored from a range of perspectives using a variety of methods spanning lab-based experiments, online surveys, and focus groups. This thesis begins with an introduction to social robots, and an exploration of the background regarding the nature and importance of human social relationships. After introducing relevant theories, I highlight gaps in our understanding of human—robot companionship that I seek [...]
doi:10.5525/gla.thesis.82858 fatcat:c3bdutvanzc23gs5gpazjrhd64