Robot babies fail in role as teenage sex deterrents

'Infant simulators' that cry and go Code Brown don't stop girls from having actual kids

Robot babies have been found to be an ineffective educational tool for those hoping to prevent teenaged pregnancies.

“Infant simulators”, to give the robo-babies their proper name, are anatomically correct dolls that require burping, feeding, rocking to sleep and produce Code Brown and Code Yellow alerts in their pants.

The dolls are used in educational settings to teach those about to have kids what it will be like once they have a real one. The idea is to give users a taste of life as a parent, complete with the drudgery, odours and interrupted sleep an infant offers, in the hope that they postpone parenthood. That's felt to be a good thing because young parents often use more government services and miss out on the chance to build skills and careers.

It's felt that once teenage girls experience even a few days simulated baby care they quickly realise that paying more attention to contraception (and school) is a might fine idea.

But researchers in the Australian State of Western Australia noted that nobody had tested that hypothesis, so did the proper scientific thing and picked two test groups of girls aged 13 to 15. From 2003 to 2006, one group got RoboBabies and associated education, the other didn't. Participants were then tracked until age 20.

Eight per cent of the group that did participate in virtual parenting ended up having babies, versus four per cent in the control group. Those exposed to Infant Simulators also had abortions at more than double the rate of the control group.

In the pages of The Lancet, the seven co-authors therefore conclude “The infant simulator-based VIP programme did not achieve its aim of reducing teenage pregnancy.”

Lead author Dr Sally Brinkman says the subjects enjoyed being the centre of attention when tending to a robot baby, so didn't quite take in the lesson that parenting a baby can be long, thankless work. Brinkman hopes public health authorities reconsider use of the simulators, as they cost AU$1,200 apiece. ®

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