The Effects of Infant Simulators on Early Adolescents

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The researchers examined the effects of infant simulators (computerized dolls designed to simulate normal infants) on 236 eighth-grade students. As part of their health and sex education curriculum, students had to provide care--24 hours a day, over several days--to dolls that cried when they "were hungry," "needed a diaper change," or "needed attention." The dolls enabled teachers to evaluate the care given by students. Students kept daily charts and journals, and wrote essays about their experiences. One to two years later, the students were surveyed, along with 461 comparison students who did not have the infant simulator experience. The findings indicated that the doll experience had a significant impact on the students, especially the females. It helped them to learn about the challenges of infant care, and to think of the implications before engaging in sexual intercourse. The comparison group felt less knowledgeable about what it takes to care for an infant, and judged infant care as less time consumin g, difficult, and expensive than did those who had the infant simulator experience.

In this project, we examined the effects of infant simulators on eighth-grade students. An infant simulator is a computerized doll designed to simulate a normal infant. The dolls used in this project, Ready-Or-Not-Tots [R], are the size and weight of newborn infants. They are programmed, when activated, to cry, coo, and burp on one of three schedules. The dolls cry audibly and loudly when they "are hungry," "need a diaper change," "need attention," or "need to burp." "Care" is given by inserting one of four keys (attention, diaper, feed, and burp) into a slot in the back of the dolls. When a doll cries, the student must use the keys to determine the reason for the crying. Sensors on the dolls detect mishandling (dropping or hitting) and tampering with the controls.

Students keep records of the care they give by recording their actions on Student Response Sheets. These sheets can then be compared with templates that correspond to the schedules that are programmed into the dolls, making it possible to evaluate the care given.

The purpose of the project, which was an adjunct to the health and sex education curriculum, was to educate young adolescents about the responsibilities involved in caring for an infant, and the possible implications of engaging in sexual intercourse. The purpose of this investigation was to examine the effects of the infant simulator experience on early adolescents. Guiding questions for the investigation included the following: How much did the experience impact the lives of students? What did students learn from, like, and dislike about the experience? Students were surveyed one to two years following the experience--what were their responses and how did their responses compare with those of students who did not have the experience?

METHOD

Subjects

As part of their health and sex education curriculum, 236 eighth-grade students (90 males and 146 females) in nine Catholic schools in a Midwestern city experienced the infant simulators. Approximately 95% of the students were from middle-class, white, Catholic families. The project was conducted for two consecutive years. One year after the second year of the project, 697 students (329 males and 368 females), 236 of whom had experienced the infant simulators, were surveyed regarding issues related to infant care, having children, and sexual behaviors.

Procedure

In each of the participating schools, the project director and the principals conducted meetings with staff members to familiarize them with the project, the dolls, and the procedures. Cooperation from staff members was requested in light of the disruptions bound to occur in classrooms, as well as other school settings, during the project. Workshops further explaining the project, its purposes, and procedures were also conducted for staff members. …