Interviewees’ Lay Theories and Social Categorization of Robot Therapy Dogs

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Therapy dogs are routine in many social settings such as education and healthcare. However, they have drawbacks (e.g., allergies and daily care) that sometimes make their use difficult. As an alternative, realistic robot therapy dogs (RTDs) can provide comfort and are cost-efficient for use in many social situations (e.g., courts). It is essential to understand how society will receive RTDs if they are to benefit society. This study explored social categorization and lay theories about RTDs through in-depth interviews (n = 21). Many participants categorized the RTD as a toy rather than as a tool to promote well-being. Participants had limited experience with RTDs but had many lay theories about the RTDs. For instance, many believed that only certain people (e.g., children or elderly people) would benefit. Some had misunderstandings about how an RTD would look and act. Participants were hesitant about using RTDs in the courtroom and preferred living dogs. We discuss the implications and future interdisciplinary research about RTD technology in society.