You'd think the tedium of tending to a wailing robot baby 24/7 would make teens reluctant to have a real one—but a study out of Australia is indicating that may not be the case. Realityworks' RealCare Baby is an "infant simulator" that cries and coos, as well as records how its human caretaker tends to it in response to its daily needs, and it's used in schools worldwide to discourage teen pregnancy, News.com.au reports. But in a study published in the Lancet, researchers found that girls who used the dolls were more likely to have given birth or had an abortion by age 20. "We were very surprised," lead author Sally Brinkman tells ABC News. "It's one thing to get results to say it doesn't work, it's another to get results that [say it] does the opposite." More than 2,800 girls between the ages of 13 and 15 were assigned either to a school that used the doll in its sex ed program or to a school that didn't.
Researchers then tracked the girls through age 20 and found that girls who'd lugged the doll around were 36% more likely to get pregnant than girls who hadn't. And only 54% of the RealCare "moms" who got pregnant in real life had an abortion compared with 60% of those who didn't use the dolls and ended up getting pregnant. One red flag about the doll's anti-pregnancy impact: Although some of the girls handling the dolls seemed irritated by their virtual babies—one even reportedly abandoned the doll in a garden shed—Brinkman says most of the teens didn't want to give the dolls back. Realityworks said in a statement to ABC that the study isn't a reflection of how well its product works, as its fully comprehensive program involves more classroom time—and more at-home time with the fake baby—than the abridged program used by researchers. (A couple took their virtual child too seriously, with tragic consequences.)