An artificially intelligent superhero named Zip may not be able to stop a train with his bare hands, but if you’re a parent or have a child in your life, you might find his feats even more compelling.

He can help children develop self-awareness, manage their emotions and turn their negative self-talk positive. If they play sports, Zip can help there, too.

University of Washington researchers created an app aimed at helping children hone skills like emotional management and self-awareness. For now, the app is still a prototype, though the scientists expect to release it in the future.

The researchers say their educational chatbot app is needed because positive self-talk has a range of benefits for kids, from boosting self-esteem to lowering depression risk.

Children’s television programming has long been helpful in teaching academic and emotional skills, the researchers said, and they wondered if an app could do the same.

There is scant research that looks at how interactive chatbots can help children acquire and improve social and emotional skills. So after creating “Self-Talk with Superhero Zip,” the research team set up a quick study. Ten pairs of siblings used the app for a week. When the week ended, most of the kids could explain the concept of supportive self-talk and reported speaking more kindly to themselves. Several turned to the app when they were upset or angry.

The app still may need some tinkering, however.

The researchers aren’t yet sure how long-lasting the app’s effects will be. And because siblings were using the app together, some parents reported the kids struggled taking turns.


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