Cambridge study: Robot dogs, laughter and meditation may relieve loneliness

For many people, one of the most distressing parts of the pandemic has been dealing with the feeling of loneliness associated with social distancing rules. A new study shows that robotic dogs, mindfulness, and laughter therapy may be among the most effective interventions to help people cope.

As part of the researchers, a team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has reviewed 58 existing studies on loneliness and identified interventions that could be adapted for people having a hard time as a result of social distancing.

Several of the studies involved initiatives taken to combat loneliness in nursing and care homes. Some of the most effective interventions in these settings involved weekly visits from an interactive robotic dog, which has proven to be as effective as a real dog in alleviating loneliness. A robotic seal has also been successful at decreasing feelings of loneliness.

Though robot animals have been impressively beneficial, these were outperformed by more traditional psychological interventions. The researchers have found that mindfulness-based therapies, qigong meditation, and laughter therapy were the most effective types of interventions, leading to significant improvements in loneliness and social support outcomes.

What’s more, educational programs like those focusing on wellbeing, friendship, and understanding the feeling of loneliness, were also identified as potentially helpful. Combining such programs with psychological interventions seemed to have the most impact overall, according to the researchers.

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