ST. LOUIS — Dogs may have a hard time wrapping their paws around this one: Robotic competition is nipping at their heels in the man's-best-friend department.
A study by Saint Louis University found that a lovable pooch named Sparky and a robotic dog, AIBO, were about equally effective at relieving the loneliness of nursing home residents and fostering attachments.
The study, which appears in the March issue of the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, builds on previous findings by the researchers that frequent dog visits decreased loneliness of nursing home residents.
To test whether residents responded better to Sparky, a trained therapy dog, or the Sony-made robot dog, researchers divided 38 nursing home residents into three groups. One group had visits with Sparky, another group had visits with the robot, and a control group did not visit with either dog.
Residents took longer to warm up to AIBO the robot, but over time, they grew more comfortable and petted and talked to him.