Social distancing can be a lonely experience. But what if you had a robot to keep you company? Researchers at IU’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering are studying the use of social robots that can support communication and mental health during social distancing. Researchers Selma Sabanovic and Sawyer Collins previously studied the use of social robots as in-home companions for older adults who were homebound due to health issues. The study showed lower levels of depression and loneliness for the users. Hoping to have similar results with people social distancing, Sabanovic and Collins are using online surveys to find out more about how people are connecting to friends and family during this period of social distancing and asking them to design their own robots to get an idea of how social distancing robots might look and act to provide needed social interactions. Researchers are in the early stages of their work and will present their findings at a future time.
In other news, some have predicted some people may be connecting more during the pandemic, potentially leading to a “coronavirus baby boom.” But IU researcher Devon Hensel says not so fast. A study by Hensel, and IU researcher Debby Herbenick, examined changes in solo and partnered sexual behaviors during the early part of the pandemic, when most of the country was subject to stay-at-home guidance. They found that half of participants reported no change or stability in their sexual behaviors over the past month. Another third of participants reported that they had either increased or decreased in some behaviors. Decreases in sexual activity were more common than increases, according to the survey. Certain factors, like having older kids at home, stressing about COVID-19 risk and symptoms of depression, appeared to play a role in those who reported a decrease in their sexual behaviors. Hensel said this study is a reminder that pandemics impact every aspect of the human experience, including sexuality.