Kristy Armitage

Summer Research Program scholar
School of Psychology

Project: Do children overimitate robots?

Over the 2017/18 Summer break, I was incredibly lucky to work within the School of Psychology’s Early Cognitive Development Centre. The incredible group of researchers within the Early Cognitive Development Centre are dedicated to discovering how cognition develops during early childhood, to better understand how children make sense of and interact with the world around them.

The aim of my project was to investigate whether children would be more adept at copying a sequence of goal-driven or goal-absent behaviours when demonstrated by a robot compared to when demonstrated by a human. The outcome of the project has real-world implications in our understanding of social affiliation, constraints around human imitative behaviours, and the effectiveness of the move towards robot educators for human children.

When I stepped into the project in December, I was given the opportunity to have input into the design of the study, as well as step through the processes of preparing it for testing. We spent a lot of our time at the Queensland Museum, testing close to 100 children aged between four and six years. We then worked our way through data analysis and finished up with writing up the project that had consumed our previous ten weeks.

To date, being a Summer scholar has been the absolute highlight of my undergraduate program. Coming from a program that has no inbuilt practical experience, the opportunity to conduct some real-world research with children in a multidisciplinary field combining humans and robots was unprecedented. I experienced firsthand that learning theoretically about a topic in class is so different from being immersed in it in the real world – despite having previously ruled out developmental psychology, I am now confident that this is my future direction. Being able to develop an entirely new research skillset and being surrounded by postgraduate students who were happy to share their experiences and give advice meant that I was so much more prepared for my Honours year ahead than I would have been without this experience.

I am so thankful for the incredible team at the Early Cognitive Development Centre for their endless support, advice and encouragement over Summer that has continued well into my Honours year. I would recommend the UQ Summer Research Program to absolutely everyone with the slightest interest in research – it has honestly changed my life.

Kristy Armitage