In a first of its kind, Javier Movellan, Ph.D., at the University of California, San Diego’s Institute for Neural Computation has created a prototype of a robot that has succeeded in building a social bridge of acceptance with Pre-Schoolers. Young children have a severely limited threshold of engagement. Researchers found that if the robot responded to quickly, children ignored the response, and too late, they had already turned away. Additionally, if the robot repeated a toddlers sounds, then the child began to accept the robot as someone they can play with. The robot as also capable of provoking “shared attention” a critical developmental step for a young child to establish rapport, the foundation of communication.
For parents of young children, this confirms observations that young children often fail to engage with the technological marvels that we hope/expect young children to attend to. We buy fancy learning tools only to find a child immediately abandons the toy as soon as the parent ceases to play with it also. TV alone often does not hold their attention. This is why, of course, parents are the best playmates of all… social connection.
For game and electronic designers, this research has significant implications for incorporating the developmental elements that are necessary for the rapport that underlies a young child’s attention and engagement.