The Effect of Virtual Reality Immersion on Evoked Anxiety

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Abstract

In the past couple of decades, the use of Virtual Reality (VR) has become increasingly prevalent. Virtual reality is mainly used today to treat anxiety disorders through exposure therapy, but it is also increasing in frequency regarding research. The goal of the present study is to determine the effect of VR immersion on evoked anxiety. The study consists of 20 undergraduate volunteers between 18 and 30 years of age. The results showed a marginal interaction of group and time point, in particular, the experimental group showed an increase in STAI scores post treatment.

Introduction

Virtually reality (VR), a new yet highly used technology, has taken the world by storm. VR immersion aims to give the user a sense of presence by controlling what they see and hear by blocking out any other sight and sound. (Rizzo, Buckwalter, & Neumann, 1997; Price & Anderson, 2007) It is slowly being used throughout households and ages. It has gotten widespread to the point where it is being used in medical settings. (Moline, 1997; Li, Yu, Shi, Shi, Tian, Yang, & Wang, 2017; Riva, 2003; Claudio & Maddalena, 2014) Perception of it in medical settings is overall positive. (Keller, Park, Cunningham, Foulandian, Chen, & Spiegel, 2017) It is transforming patient care. It has even made its way into treatment of mental disorders, particularly anxiety-based disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorders, seasonal affective disorders, general phobias, and schizophrenia. (Powers & Emmelkamp, 2007; Rothbaum, Hodge, Ready, Graap, Alarcon, 2001; Ku, Han, Lee, Jang, Kim, Park, Kim, Kim, Kim, & Kim, 2007) VR is most commonly used for exposure therapy. (Powers & Emmelkamp, 2008; Parsons & Rizzo, 2008; Opris, Pintea, Garc?­a-Palacios, Botella, Szamoskozi, & David, 2011) It is also being used for assessing mental health disorders. (Freeman, Reeve, Robinson, Ehlers, Clark, Spanlang & Slader, 2017; Freeman, Antley, Elhers, Dunn, Thompson, Vorontsova, Garety, Kuipers, Glucksman, & Slater, 2014) With the use of virtual reality becoming prevalent, we must look at the effects it can have on physiological methods as well. Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) has been proven to have benefits in mental health settings particularly in relation to anxiety disorders and specific phobias. (Parsons & Rizzo, 2008; Opris, Pintea, Garc?­a-Palacios, Botella, Szamoskozi, & David, 2011)

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Gorini et al., (2010) proposed to improve treatments using modern technologies, in particular, biofeedback enhanced VR.

Methods

Participants

Participants consisted of a convenient sample of 20 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30. 14% of the participants were male. One outlier was removed due to age. All participants were recruited from psychology classes at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. There was offered extra credit for participation as compensation for their time. Participants were randomly assigned to either an immersive virtual-reality based experimental group,

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