behavior · brain · children · learning · robotics · Social

Are robots future playmates for kids?

robot
Will this robot someday be a child's best friend? (Photo credit: glemak)

An article from LiveScience talks about recent studies that find kids can get along pretty well with robots as playmates:

As technology continues to improve, human-like robots will likely play an ever-increasing role in our lives: They may become tutors for children, caretakers for the elderly, office receptionists or even housemaids. Children will come of age with these androids, which naturally raises the question: What kind of relationships will kids build with personified robots?

Children will view humanoid robots as intelligent social and moral beings, allowing them to develop substantial and meaningful relationships with the machines, new research suggests.

Researchers analyzed the interactions between nearly 100 children and Robovie, a 3-foot-tall (0.9 meters) robot developed by the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Japan. In the study, two technicians controlled Robovie remotely from another room, leading the children to believe that the robot was autonomous. The researchers imparted humanlike behavior to the robot, such as having Robovie claim unfair treatment when he was told to go into the closet at the end of the interaction sessions.

After reading the LiveScience question is, is this a good idea? I know positive results have been found for kids with Autism, who are able to transfer skills practiced with robots on to other humans, but for healthy kids is this really as beneficial? The scientists don’t seem too concerned:

…the researchers think that the results have important implications for the design of future robots. If engineers design robots to simply obey orders, the master-servant relationship that children experience may trickle into their interactions with other humans. Is it then better to design robots with the ability to “push back” as Robovie did when he was instructed to go into the closet?

Shen said there is no easy answer to which design scheme is better.

“I don’t think children will treat robots as nonsocial beings, they will treat them as social actors and interact with them in social ways,” she said. “But we need more data and evidence to see how adults, as well as children, will develop relationships with these robots.”

What do you think? Is this a good idea? The elderly in Japan do seem to benefit from having robot pets. Could the same be true for kids?

behavior · brain · environment · neuroscience

Human Brain Responds To Animals, Cute Or Creepy : NPR

Koala
Humans are hard-wired to spot animals in our environment. Image by Rennett Stowe via Flickr

Have you ever sworn you knew what your cat was thinking? You may have been right. It turns out we are more tuned into animals and their emotional status than we might think:

Animals have a special place in the human heart. Now, researchers are reporting that creatures great and small also have a special place in our heads.

A team led by researchers at Caltech has found individual brain cells that respond when a person sees an animal, but not when that person sees another person, a place, or an object.

The cells were found in the amygdala, an almond-shaped part of the brain involved in emotions, including fear. And they responded to any kind of animal, including spiders, dogs and rodents, says Christof Koch, a researcher at Caltech and the lead author of the study, published in Nature Neuroscience.

One reason present-day humans have these cells may be because some animals posed a threat to our ancestors, Koch says. Specialized cells could have helped the brain respond quickly to danger, he says.

more via Human Brain Responds To Animals, Cute Or Creepy : NPR.

I love the idea that urge to cuddle puppies comes from the amygdala, often referred to as the “lizard” part of our brain! It makes sense that as humans we’d survive better if we were more in tune with the animals in our surroundings and whether they wanted to eat us or not.

anthropology · behavior · community · culture · happiness · health · mental health

What Makes People Happy? The Economics of Happiness | The Art of Manliness

dad July 26 1936
Image by liberalmind1012 via Flickr

 

A very nice essay about what it takes to be a happy, healthy man, woman, or general human being:

Men have a certain innate restlessness. We’re always looking for a new adventure, wanting to feel like we’re progressing in life, and wondering if the grass might be greener somewhere else.Our ever-searching nature can be a good thing if it’s channeled into pursuits that really lead to greater happiness and satisfaction. But restlessness can also get us terribly off track if we expend our energy journeying down avenues that are really dead ends.

…the key to finding the truly greener pastures is to concentrate on going after the right things-the things that really will make you happier-instead of expending your energy in pursuit of a happiness mirage.

This is where the economics of happiness comes in. Numerous studies have revealed what factors in life are correlated with greater happiness. Now granted, these things correlate to greater happiness; they don’t necessarily cause happiness. But I always say it’s at least worth checking out where the happy people congregate. Below we highlight eight areas of a man’s life that we often associate with increasing or decreasing our happiness and analyze if the grass really is greener in those pastures.

 

Read the best ways to be happy (or unhappy) at What Makes People Happy? The Economics of Happiness | The Art of Manliness.