Touching the social robot PARO reduces pain perception and salivary oxytocin levels

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Abstract

Human-human social touch improves mood and alleviates pain. No studies have so far tested the effect of human-robot emotional touch on experimentally induced pain ratings, on mood and on oxytocin levels in healthy young adults. Here, we assessed the effect of touching the robot PARO on pain perception, on mood and on salivary oxytocin levels, in 83 young adults. We measured their perceived pain, happiness state, and salivary oxytocin. For the 63 participants in the PARO group, pain was assessed in three conditions: Baseline, Touch (touching PARO) and No-Touch (PARO present). The control group (20 participants) underwent the same measurements without ever encountering PARO. There was a decrease in pain ratings and in oxytocin levels and an increase in happiness ratings compared to baseline only in the PARO group. The Touch condition yielded a larger decrease in pain ratings compared to No-Touch. These effects correlated with the participants’ positive perceptions of the interaction with PARO. Participants with higher perceived ability to communicate with PARO experienced a greater hypoalgesic effect when touching PARO. We show that human-robot social touch is effective in reducing pain ratings, improving mood and - surprisingly - reducing salivary oxytocin levels in adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9814
JournalScientific Reports
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020

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