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What must be fed, burped, rocked and have its nappy changed around the clock... and "comes in seven different head styles"? The answer to this rather grisly juxtaposition is the RealCare Baby; a sophisticated infant simulator designed to help teenagers understand the difficult reality of looking after a baby.

What must be fed, burped, rocked and have its nappy changed around the clock... and "comes in seven different head styles"? The answer to this rather grisly juxtaposition is the RealCare Baby; a sophisticated infant simulator designed to help teenagers understand the difficult reality of looking after a baby.

RealCare Baby looks like a real baby, must be constantly cared for (fed, burped, rocked, changed), needs its head supported properly, only responds to care from particular people (by dint of a wireless wristband worn by the "parent") and records detailed data on how that parent looked after it. The data includes, by the way, whether and at what times the baby was fed, burped, rocked and changed, whether it was shaken, held roughly or the wrong way and whether its head was supported or not.

RealCare Baby is pretty obviously persuasive technology, as it explicitly attempts to change people's attitudes (and by extension, behaviour) about having a child. B. J. Fogg describes it as "perhaps the best known object simulator used for persuasive purposes" [1]. Object simulations (as opposed to environment simulations which allow people to try things out in virtual worlds) use a physical object in the real world to allow experimentation. In this case it allows teenagers to simulate the experience of being a parent in the real world; this makes the experience far more lifelike than being asked to simply imagine having a child or using an inanimate stand in (like a bag of flour) - suddenly a hungry, crying, pooing baby is introduced to a teenager's social life.

So how effective are they? A review paper (by the manufacturer) collates twenty studies between 1997 and 2006 on the effectiveness of infant simulators, and cites studies (mostly from the US) that show:

  • Recognition of the intensity of parenthood (e.g. [3] - 94.3% of 353 male and female 9th graders resulted in responses like looking after a baby might be "too much for them [as an adolescent parent] to handle")
  • Recognition that parenting would limit their social life (e.g. [4] - 250 male and female 11th graders "nearly every student (98 percent) said that having a baby would limit their social life"
  • Understanding that having a child would limit future goals (e.g. [5] - 213 male and female 10th to 12th graders most commonly thought "that being a parent is time-consuming and a lot of responsibility and that being a teen parent will keep you from meeting future goals.")
  • Understanding that planning for parenthood is important (e.g. [6] - 379 male and female 8th and 10th graders "76 percent [of the students] agreed that Baby Think It Over [a forerunner of the RealCare Baby] helped them decide to wait to have children."
And if you're interested and live in Brighton, you can borrow one from the Health Promotion Library there.

[1] Fogg, B. J., (2003) Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. Morgan Kaufmann. [2] Realityworks, Inc. The Effectiveness of Infant Simulators in Teen Sexuality & Parenting Programs. [3] de Anda, D. (2006). Baby Think It Over: Evaluation of an infant simulation intervention for adolescent pregnancy prevention. Health and Social Work, 31(1), 26-35. [4] Didion, J., and Gatzke, H. (2004). The Baby Think It Over experience to prevent teen pregnancy: A postintervention evaluation. Public Health Nursing, 21(4), 331-337. [5] Somers, C. L., and Fahlman, M. M. (2001). Effectiveness of the “Baby Think It Over” teen pregnancy prevention program. Journal of School Health, 71(5), 188-197. [6] Barnett, J. E., and Hurst, C. S. (2004). Do adolescents take “Baby Think It Over” seriously? Adolescence, 39(153), 65-76.

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