Social robots as embedded reinforcers of social behavior in children with autism

Elizabeth S. Kim, Lauren D. Berkovits, Emily P. Bernier, Dan Leyzberg, Frederick Shic, Rhea Paul, Brian Scassellati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

308 Scopus citations


In this study we examined the social behaviors of 4- to 12-year-old children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD; N = 24) during three tradic interactions with an adult confederate and an interaction partner, where the interaction partner varied randomly among (1) another adult human, (2) a touchscreen computer game, and (3) a social dinosaur robot. Children spoke more in general, and directed more speech to the adult confederate, when the interaction partner was a robot, as compared to a human or computer game interaction partner. Children spoke as much to the robot as to the adult interaction partner. This study provides the largest demonstration of social human-robot interaction in children with autism to date. Our findings suggest that social robots may be developed into useful tools for social skills and communication therapies, specifically by embedding social interaction into intrinsic reinforcers and motivators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1038-1049
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • Assistive robots
  • Embedded reinforcers
  • Intervention
  • Social robots


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