Social interactions in virtual reality exposure therapy: A proof-of-concept pilot study
Research on virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) has demonstrated good treatment efficacy with regards to several anxiety disorders. Yet, there is lack of knowledge about the value of integrating interaction between clients and virtual humans in VRET. Such interaction might prove effective in treating psychological complaints that involve social interactions, such as social anxiety.
A VRET system specifically designed to expose clients with social anxiety disorder to anxiety provoking social situations was applied to 16 and 18 individuals with high and low levels of social anxiety, respectively. Participants engaged in two exposure sessions in several free speech dialogues with virtual humans while being monitored by a therapist.
Participants with high levels of social anxiety reported significantly lower levels of social anxiety three months after exposure to two virtual reality interaction sessions than before treatment (p < 0.01). In the group with low levels of social anxiety, no significant change of social anxiety was reported between pre-treatment and follow-up. Additionally, participants in both groups reported higher self-efficacy three months after treatment than before treatment (ps ≤ 0.001).
These findings indicate that virtual reality technology that incorporates social interactions may be successfully applied for therapeutic purposes.
Morina, N., Brinkman, W. P., Hartanto, D., Kampmann, I. L., & Emmelkamp, P. M. (2015). Social interactions in virtual reality exposure therapy: A proof-of-concept pilot study. Technology and Health Care, (Preprint), 1-9. For paper see pre-print