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Appears in Collections:Psychology Journal Articles
Peer Review Status: Refereed
Title: Does it bite? The role of stimuli characteristics on preschoolers’ interactions with robots, insects and a dog
Author(s): Howard, Lorraine
Vick, Sarah-Jane
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Keywords: Children
Preschool children
Infant psychology
Children and animals
Human-animal relationships
Issue Date: Dec-2010
Date Deposited: 16-Dec-2010
Citation: Howard L & Vick S (2010) Does it bite? The role of stimuli characteristics on preschoolers’ interactions with robots, insects and a dog. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People and Animals, 23 (4), pp. 397-413.;
Abstract: While there is increasing interest in the impact of animal interactions upon children’s wellbeing and attitudes, there has been less attention paid to the specific characteristics of the animals which attract and engage children. We used a within-subjects design to explore how differences in animal features (such as their animacy, size, and texture) impacted upon pre-school children’s social and emotional responses. This study examined pre-schoolers’ interactions with two animal-like robots (Teksta and Scoozie), two insect types (stick insects and hissing cockroaches) and a dog (Teasel, a West Highland Terrier). Nineteen preschool participants aged 35-57 months were videoed while interacting with the experimenter, a peer and each stimulus (presented individually). We used both verbal and nonverbal behaviours to evaluate interactions and emotional responses to the stimuli and found that these two measures could be incongruent, highlighting the need for systematic approaches to evaluating children’s interactions with animals. We categorised the content of children’s dialogues in relation to psychological and biological attributes of each stimulus and their distinctions between living and non-living stimuli; the majority of comments were biological, with psychological terms largely reserved for the dog and mammal-like robot only. Comments relating to living qualities revealed ambiguity towards attributes that denote differences between living and non-living creatures. We used a range of nonverbal measures, including willingness to approach and touch stimuli, rates of self-touching, facial expressions of emotion, and touch to others. Insects (hissing cockroaches and stick insects) received the most negative verbal and nonverbal responses. The mammal-like robot (rounded, fluffy body shape, large eyes, and sympathetic sounds) was viewed much more positively than its metallic counterpart, as was the real dog. We propose that these interactions provide information on how children perceive animals and a platform for the examination of human socio-emotional and cognitive development more generally. The children engaged in social referencing to the adult experimenter rather than familiar peers when uncertain about the stimuli presented, suggesting that caregivers have a primary role in shaping children’s responses to animals.
DOI Link: 10.2752/175303710X12750451259499
Rights: The editor has granted permission for use of this article in this Repository. The article was first published in Anthrozoös: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals by Berg / International Society for Anthrozoology.; This is not the final published version of this article; the final published version can be found here:

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