Everybody loves Paro. Seriously, what’s not to love about Paro, the robotic baby harp seal designed as a therapeutic tool for use in hospitals and nursing homes? It’s cute, it’s cuddly, it wiggles and makes pleasing noises, and it’s been carefully designed to be the least uncanny valley robot you’ve ever met, because none of us are lucky enough to have real live baby harp seal experience to compare it to. Over the years, a bunch of studies have shown that Paro (which was designed from the beginning to be a medical device) is able to reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood, particularly in older adults with dementia. What hasn’t been explored is Paro’s effect on physical pain—if something hurts, can Paro help you feel better?
Nirit Geva, Florina Uzefovsky, and Shelly Levy-Tzedek at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel, have just published a new study in Scientific Reports measuring exactly how much Paro can help you when you’re being subjected to pain. And how did they do that? By subjecting people to pain, and then handing them a Paro to snuggle.