Psychosocial health interventions by social robots: systematic review of randomized controlled trials

Nicole Lee Robinson, Timothy Vaughan Cottier, David John Kavanagh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleOtherpeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Social robots that can communicate and interact with people offer exciting opportunities for improved health care access and outcomes. However, evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on health or well-being outcomes has not yet been clearly synthesized across all health domains where social robots have been tested. Objective: This study aimed to undertake a systematic review examining current evidence from RCTs on the effects of psychosocial interventions by social robots on health or well-being. Methods: Medline, PsycInfo, ScienceDirect, Scopus, and Engineering Village searches across all years in the English language were conducted and supplemented by forward and backward searches. The included papers reported RCTs that assessed changes in health or well-being from interactions with a social robot across at least 2 measurement occasions. Results: Out of 408 extracted records, 27 trials met the inclusion criteria: 6 in child health or well-being, 9 in children with autism spectrum disorder, and 12 with older adults. No trials on adolescents, young adults, or other problem areas were identified, and no studies had interventions where robots spontaneously modified verbal responses based on speech by participants. Most trials were small (total N=5 to 415; median=34), only 6 (22%) reported any follow-up outcomes (2 to 12 weeks; median=3.5) and a single-blind assessment was reported in 8 (31%). More recent trials tended to have greater methodological quality. All papers reported some positive outcomes from robotic interventions, although most trials had some measures that showed no difference or favored alternate treatments. Conclusions: Controlled research on social robots is at an early stage, as is the current range of their applications to health care. Research on social robot interventions in clinical and health settings needs to transition from exploratory investigations to include large-scale controlled trials with sophisticated methodology, to increase confidence in their efficacy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13203
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Dementia
  • Healthcare
  • Social robot
  • Therapy
  • Treatment

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