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Virtual Reality (VR) Research Studies

Therapy and Support

In one of the first studies of Virtual Reality Group Therapy (VRGT), ten participants and ten therapists viewed videos and then participated in moderated group therapy sessions in VR. The response of both patients and therapists was “largely positive” with both groups citing the anonymity of avatar as minimizing patients’ social anxiety. Patients also cited the ease of attending a session from home, particularly those with physical disabilities and/or social anxiety. 
The purpose of this study was to test the feasibility of Virtual Reality (VR)-based peers support for those seeking substance abuse recovery. “Quantitative data showed that improvement in mood, perceived online social support, and satisfaction with group-therapy alliance were associated with VR meeting attendance. With further research and improvements, this virtual intervention may be an effective tool to teach cognitive-behavioral skills, regulate affect, and provide social support to individuals who are at risk for relapse or in long-term recovery.”
In this study, fifteen patients with generalized SAD attended up to 16 VR-CBT sessions. Questionnaires on clinical and functional outcomes, and diary assessments on social activity, social anxiety and paranoia were completed at baseline, post-treatment and at 6-months follow-up. Though treatment in this case was individual-based cognitive and behavioral therapy, results “suggest that VR-CBT may be effective in reducing anxiety as well as depression, and can increase quality of life.”
This chapter of Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology examines the clinical potential of VR in the assessment and treatment of mental health diseases. The author examines two recent meta-reviews assessing more than 53 systematic reviews and meta-analyses that support VR’s use in anxiety disorders, pain management, and eating and weight disorders, with long-term effects that generalize to the real world.  
This study was comprised of 79 individuals who reported a mental health diagnosis, previous experience with suicidality, or who self-identified with depression. Participants were placed in a physical room with a VR headset and were able to explore a rich audio and visual experience within that space. The study concludes that “future developments within this area should regard virtual and mixed reality as an accessible, non-medical platform for engaging individuals who reported with lived experiences of distress or mental ill health—potentially for a wide range of users from those with slightly lowered mood to acute presentations.”
This study consisted of a two-arm pilot RCT with a sample of 36 individuals recovering from AUD in a therapeutic community; experimental group participants received a therapist-guided, VR-based cognitive training intervention combined with treatment as usual, and control group participants received treatment as usual without cognitive training. When comparing the two groups, researchers found “a positive impact of the VR training on the cognitive rehabilitation, particularly on attention and executive functions, of individuals with AUD.”
This pilot study enlisted six participants with clinically diagnosed Anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure. By viewing positive scenes in VR, “significant decreases were found in self-reported anhedonia, depression, anxiety, and impairments in functioning from baseline to 1-month follow-up.”
This study from 2007 coined the term Proteus Effect, the paradigm in which self-representation shapes behavior. Leveraging early VR technology, subjects were assigned either attractive or unattractive avatars. Each subject saw their own avatars, but their counterparts in VR saw them without distinct features. The results indicated that self-perception was more important in providing a feeling of confidence and social comfort than how other percieved of the subject.
In this study, thirty-six chronic persons with aphasia (PWA) were randomly assigned to two groups. The VR group underwent conversational therapy during VR everyday life setting observation, while the control group was trained in a conventional setting without VR support. Results of the six-month study revealed that “language rehabilitation through an ecologically valid VR system can have a large impact in cognitive and psychological functioning.” Additionally, researchers concluded that “given the importance of a positive psychological state in PWA for motivating their participation in the therapy sessions, we believe that the use of VR, in the near future, should be pursued.”
Subjects were shown various scenarios in both 2D and 3D virtual settings. Results of the study “indicated that emotional stimulation was more intense in the 3D environment due to the improved perception of the environment; greater emotional arousal was generated; and higher beta (21–30 Hz) EEG power was identified in 3D than in 2D.”

Soft Skills Development

A recent MIT study enlisted 38 police officers to take part in an VR scenario in which they are alongside another officer who is racially abusive towards an African American suspect. Officers were then divided into two different groups in order to witness the same interrogation again. One group witnessed the interaction as an observer while the other embodied the perspective of the suspect. Three weeks later, all officers were again placed in a hostile interrogation of an African American suspect in a different setting. “The results show that the actions of those who had been in the Victim condition were coded as being more helpful towards the victim than those in the Observer condition.”

The study, which intentionally leveraged affordable hardware and psychologists only minimally trained in VR, concluded that “VR exposure therapy can be effective under routine care conditions and is an attractive approach for future, large-scale implementation and effectiveness trials.” Among the studies finding were that patients’ self-reported a “robust” decrease in PSA following VR-assisted therapy and that the “exposure therapy exerted these benefits by reducing patients’ fear of negative evaluation and catastrophic beliefs.” The study also found that “patients rated the quality of their speech performances higher after watching the avatar perform a playback of their speech.”

Corporate Collaboration

This study set out to compare the effectiveness of group collaboration through multi-user immersive virtual reality (IVR), face-to-face (FTF) meetings, and video conferencing (VR). The study concluded that “Multi-user IVR can help bridge the gap between the main advantages of IVR (simulation and manipulation of immersive three-dimensional objects) and the growing demand for effective collaboration of spatially distributed teams. This creates new opportunities for remote work that rely on spatial interactivity within a virtual environment.”

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