Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 1038–1049 | Cite as

Social Robots as Embedded Reinforcers of Social Behavior in Children with Autism

  • Elizabeth S. KimEmail author
  • Lauren D. Berkovits
  • Emily P. Bernier
  • Dan Leyzberg
  • Frederick Shic
  • Rhea Paul
  • Brian Scassellati
Original Paper


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.


Social robots Assistive robots Intervention Embedded reinforcers 



This material is based upon work supported by Microsoft Research and the National Science Foundation under grants No. 0835767, No. 0968538, and No. 1117801, as well as by an NSF Expedition in Computing (award #1139078). We thank Kathleen Koenig for clinical insights into experimental design; Taylor Mae Brown and Hilary Rose Barr for meticulous video annotation; Julie Wolf, Elizabeth Schoen Simmons, and Maysa Akbar for clinical supervision of participants; Rebecca Loomis and Jonathan Tirrell for assistance with data management; Erin MacDonnell and Heidi Seib for assistance with recruitment; and Jonathan A. Kelley for insightful review of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth S. Kim
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Lauren D. Berkovits
    • 3
    • 4
  • Emily P. Bernier
    • 1
    • 5
  • Dan Leyzberg
    • 1
  • Frederick Shic
    • 3
  • Rhea Paul
    • 3
    • 6
  • Brian Scassellati
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Child Study Center, School of MedicineYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Child Study Center, School of MedicineYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUCLALos AngelesUSA
  5. 5.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  6. 6.Speech-Language PathologySacred Heart UniversityFairfieldUSA

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