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Social Robot Counsellors – Jackie Andrade, Uni. Plymouth – Voice Tech Podcast ep.055

Jackie Andrade Plymouth Uni

Episode description

Today on the show we welcome Jackie Andrade, Professor of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, and Leonie Cooper, a Ph.D. candidate at the university who is researching robot-delivered intervention to reduce procrastination. In this episode, we talk about how people communicate with robots, the role that robots can play in healthcare, and how robots can change human behaviour and influence us to take the right actions.

We begin this discussion by taking a broad look at the psychological support that can be delivered through humans, and how that can be delivered through technology. We then dive into the motivational interviewing concept – a counselling method that helps people resolve thoughts, feelings, and insecurities to help them find the internal motivation they need to change their behaviour. We then take a look at Jackie and Leonie’s study, which involves an adorable-looking NAO Robot. We head into all the details around their paper which looks at how motivational interviewing using a NAO Robot was received by patients.

One of the most fascinating parts of this conversation is learning more about the technological design decisions made for voice, movement, expression, and interaction of the NAO Robot and why Jackie and Leonie specifically decided against using speech detection. We also unpack the debate about whether social robots will ever replace human therapists, as well as the surprising benefits and the challenges that come with talking to robots as opposed to humans. By the end of this episode, you’ll have a better understanding as to why we need social robot counsellors in the first place, leaving you with the question: How does this make you feel?


  • What is really meant by “psychological support” and how it is currently delivered by humans.
  • The fundamentals of motivational interviewing and the outcomes of active listening.
  • Procrastination and other common problems people are needing psychological support for.
  • The current psychological support methods being delivered through technology today.
  • Multiple-choice versus speech recognition and the benefits of using scripted responses.
  • Learn more about the efforts being made to create technology with more emotional depth.
  • The benefits of having psychological support delivered by technology as opposed to humans.
  • The illusion of active listening: Why it’s okay to know that a robot doesn’t understand you.
  • The aims of Jackie and Leonie’s study using the NAO robots and the surprising results.
  • Find out why an optional breathing function was added to the NAO robot design.
  • Small, brightly coloured, big glowing eyes: Discover what the NAO robot looks like.
  • People’s responses to the NAO robot and why they liked the feeling of non-judgment.
  • The arguments for and against social robots taking the place of the human psychologist.
  • Why social robots are necessary for the future of healthcare as the new face of intervention.
  • Learn more about the advocacy for social robots to be included in community centres.
  • How social robots can inspire human commitment to personal goals and aspirations.
  • Discover how Leoni’s study is working toward more personalization in robot intervention.
  • The Choreograph, Python, and Android software being used in the NAO robot design.
  • Hate it or love it? The types of people that social robot therapy may be better suited to.
  • The importance of setting people’s expectations of robots by building-in initial icebreakers.
  • Learn more about the opportunities available at Plymouth in Psychology, Robotics, and VR.

Quotes from the show

24:23] People felt it was helpful listening to themselves talk out loud about what they wanted to do.

[34:13] Robots offer that non-judgemental environment, an opportunity to talk freely without interruption

[34:55] The therapist is still behind the therapy they are receiving via the robot.

[54:21] They got over the weirdness of talking to a robot.

[01:00:23] Don’t be scared of the programming.

Links from the show

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