Why Babies Love Robots & Animation

Amy Keyishian
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Robot And KidMy daughter Penny was about 18 months old when she discovered Elmo. Elmo is a puppet. Elmo is also the center of her existence right now, at almost-2. Seeing a picture of him crying in a book throws her into a state of high fretting, hearing his intro song makes her bounce and scream with joy. She can’t go to bed without clutching his furry red body to her own. Elmo is real.

A recent study at the University of Washington tested 64 babies, all of them 18 months old, by having them interact with a friendly little robot. After the interaction, the robot looked across the room, and the baby followed the robot’s gaze. The researchers say this means babies don’t need you to look like a person to treat you like a person. As long as someone -- or something -- is friendly, a baby sees it as a friend.

To which anyone with an actual baby says: Nnn-DUH. Am I right?

I don’t know if this is connected, but when my grandmother was fading away in a nursing home, and the rest of us felt dread at visiting her, my nephew never minded. He didn’t mind the smells, the sounds, the anxiety in the air -- he saw people, and he smiled with wide-faced friendship at even the most gone-daddy-gone of the oldsters in their beds.

Kids want to connect. They’d rather believe there’s something good everywhere they look. We lose that as we get older -- we have to, or we’d end up writing checks to every girl scout who came to the door -- but it’s pretty amazing to watch all that love and joy in action.

Anyway, it’s no surprise to me that babies think robots are real. I remember being way older than a baby, and being convinced that my dog could talk and that I would marry a horse. (Ratchet it back, peanut gallery.)

How about you? Would your kids see a robot as human?


Image via LelandsMommy/CafeMom


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