“Robot Friends” and VR for Loneliness during the Pandemic: Know what IEEE experts have to say
Apps Unveiled|May 2021
A result of the isolation that individuals have endured due to the COVID-19 pandemic includes feelings of loneliness and depression. To help those experiencing these types of feelings, technologists, researchers, and healthcare workers are tapping into the benefits of using “robot friends” and VR for loneliness.
Richmond

Depression increased after the outbreak of the virus and sharp mental health shifts occurred as COVID-19 cases began to rise around the globe.

IEEE member Jonathan Gratch said that physical touch and the way people give social cues in-person versus through a video call is biologically beneficial for our brains. Without those forms of social interaction happening regularly, our loneliness meter increases.

“Video conferencing can be cognitively demanding, as it might supercharge some of the social stressors found in real-world interactions,” Gratch added. “The fact that you see yourself makes you more aware of your appearance and reactions and increases your ‘impression management’. This is a known stressor.”

Another difficulty with video conferencing is our perception of screen boundaries. “For analog face-to-face, physically co-located interactions, our senses are not bounded by a screen border or controlled and mediated by a single camera angle or microphone placement,” said IEEE member Todd Richmond. “When we are in person, we are immersed in a space and that sense of immersion is something humans have learned and evolved to expect.”

Since we weren’t able to obtain the social interactions our bodies and brains were expecting or desiring during the COVID-19 crisis because of public safety concerns, robotics and virtual reality (VR) stepped in to fill the loneliness gaps.

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