Sense of presence and anxiety during virtual social interactions between a human and virtual humans
Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) has been shown to be effective in treatment of anxiety disorders. Yet, there is lack of research on the extent to which interaction between the individual and virtual humans can be successfully implanted to increase levels of anxiety for therapeutic purposes. This proof-of-concept pilot study aimed at examining levels of the sense of presence and anxiety during exposure to virtual environments involving social interaction with virtual humans and using different virtual reality displays. A non-clinical sample of 38 participants was randomly assigned to either a head-mounted display (HMD) with motion tracker and sterescopic view condition or a one-screen projection-based virtual reality display condition. Participants in both conditions engaged in free speech dialogues with virtual humans controlled by research assistants. It was hypothesized that exposure to virtual social interactions will elicit moderate levels of sense of presence and anxiety in both groups. Further it was expected that participants in the HMD condition will report higher scores of sense of presence and anxiety than participants in the one-screen projection-based display condition. Results revealed that in both conditions virtual social interactions were associated with moderate levels of sense of presence and anxiety. Additionally, participants in the HMD condition reported significantly higher levels of presence than those in the one-screen projection-based display condition (p = .001). However, contrary to the expectations neither the average level of anxiety nor the highest level of anxiety during exposure to social virtual environments differed between the groups (p = .97 and p = .75, respectively). The findings suggest that virtual social interactions can be successfully applied in VRET to enhance sense of presence and anxiety. Furthermore, our results indicate that one-screen projection-based displays can successfully activate levels of anxiety in social virtual environments. The outcome can prove helpful in using low-cost projection-based virtual reality environments for treating individuals with social phobia.
Morina N, Brinkman W, Hartanto D, Emmelkamp PM. (2014) Sense of presence and anxiety during virtual social interactions between a human and virtual humans. PeerJ 2:e337. online