Sooyeon Jeong Dissertation Defense

April 15, 2022
3:30pm ET

Dissertation Title: Designing and Deploying Robotic Companions to Improve Human Psychological Wellbeing


Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages are affected by depression, and it has become a leading cause of disability. Several interactive technologies for mental health have been developed to make various therapeutic services more accessible and scalable. However, most of them are designed to engage users only within the therapy/intervention tasks. This thesis presents social robots that deliver interactive positive psychology interventions and build rapport with people over time as helpful companions to improve psychological wellbeing. Two long-term deployment studies explored and evaluated how these robotic agents can improve people’s psychological wellbeing in the real world contexts. In Study 1, a robotic coach provided seven positive psychology interventions for college students in on-campus dormitory settings and showed significant association with improvements in students' psychological wellbeing, mood, and motivation to change. In Study 2, we deployed our robots in eighty people's homes all across the U.S. and evaluated the efficacy of a social robot that delivers mental health interventions as a peer-like companion, rather than an expert coach. The companion-like robot was shown to build stronger therapeutic alliance with people than a coach-like robot, and resulted in enhanced psychological wellbeing and readiness for change, and reduced negative affect. We further investigated impacts of people’s traits (e.g., personality and age, on the intervention outcomes, robot usage behaviors, and overall experience with the robot. Results from these two long-term in-the-wild studies offer valuable insights into designing companion AI agents that personalize mental health interventions and agent behaviors based on users’ traits and behavioral cues for better mental health outcomes.

Committee members: 

Dr. Cynthia Breazeal, Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT Media Lab
Dr. Rosalind Picard, Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT Media Lab
Dr. Timothy Bickmore, Professor, Associate Dean of Research, Northeastern University
Dr. Deirdre Logan, Director, Psychological Services for Pain Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital; Associate Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
Dr. Hae Won Park, Research Scientist, MIT Media lab

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