Reducing children's pain and distress towards flu vaccinations: a novel and effective application of humanoid robotics

Vaccine. 2013 Jun 7;31(25):2772-7. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2013.03.056. Epub 2013 Apr 24.


Objective: Millions of children in North America receive an annual flu vaccination, many of whom are at risk of experiencing severe distress. Millions of children also use technologically advanced devices such as computers and cell phones. Based on this familiarity, we introduced another sophisticated device - a humanoid robot - to interact with children during their vaccination. We hypothesized that these children would experience less pain and distress than children who did not have this interaction.

Method: This was a randomized controlled study in which 57 children (30 male; age, mean±SD: 6.87±1.34 years) were randomly assigned to a vaccination session with a nurse who used standard administration procedures, or with a robot who was programmed to use cognitive-behavioral strategies with them while a nurse administered the vaccination. Measures of pain and distress were completed by children, parents, nurses, and researchers.

Results: Multivariate analyses of variance indicated that interaction with a robot during flu vaccination resulted in significantly less pain and distress in children according to parent, child, nurse, and researcher ratings with effect sizes in the moderate to high range (Cohen's d=0.49-0.90).

Conclusion: This is the first study to examine the effectiveness of child-robot interaction for reducing children's pain and distress during a medical procedure. All measures of reduction were significant. These findings suggest that further research on robotics at the bedside is warranted to determine how they can effectively help children manage painful medical procedures.

Trial registration: NCT01529021.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Robotics*
  • Vaccination / psychology*

Associated data