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Front. Robot. AI | doi: 10.3389/frobt.2019.00081

A long-term study of young children's rapport, social emulation, and language learning with a peer-like robot playmate in preschool

  • 1Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States

Prior research has demonstrated the importance of children's peers for their
learning and development. In particular, peer interaction, especially with
more advanced peers, can enhance preschool children's language growth. In
this paper, we explore one factor that may modulate children's language
learning with a peer-like social robot: rapport. We explore connections
between preschool children's learning, rapport, and emulation of the
robot's language during a storytelling intervention.

We performed a long-term field study in a preschool with 17 children aged 4--6
years. Children played a storytelling game with a social robot for 8
sessions over two months. For some children, the robot matched the level of
its stories to the children's language ability, acting as a slightly more
advanced peer (\textit{Matched} condition); for the others, the robot did
not match the story level (\textit{Unmatched} condition). We examined
children's use of target vocabulary words and key phrases used by the
robot, children's emulation of the robot’s stories during their own
storytelling, and children's language style matching (LSM---a measure of
overlap in function word use and speaking style associated with rapport and
relationship) to see whether they mirrored the robot more over
time.

We found that not only did children emulate the robot more over time, but also,
children who emulated more of the robot's phrases during storytelling
scored higher on the vocabulary posttest. Children with higher LSM scores
were more likely to emulate the robot's content words in their stories.
Furthermore, the robot's personalization in the \textit{Matched} condition
led to increases in both children's emulation and their LSM scores.
Together, these results suggest first, that interacting with a more
advanced peer is beneficial for children, and second, that children's
emulation of the robot's language may be related to their rapport and their
learning. This is the first study to empirically support that rapport may
be a modulating factor in children's peer learning, and furthermore, that a
social robot can serve as an effective intervention for language
development by leveraging this insight.

Keywords: Language Developement, Children, peer modeling, Rapport, relationship, social robotics, Storytelling, mimicry

Received: 17 May 2019; Accepted: 16 Aug 2019.

Edited by:

Chung Hyuk Park, George Washington University, United States

Reviewed by:

Tony Belpaeme, University of Plymouth, United Kingdom
Sofia Serholt, Department of Applied Information Technology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden  

Copyright: © 2019 Kory-Westlund and Breazeal. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Jacqueline M. Kory-Westlund, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, United States, jakory@media.mit.edu