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Social VR

Investigation of Social Interactions and Implementing Social Skills Training in Virtual Reality (VR).

We implemented a novel adaptive virtual reality (VR) intervention to improve targeted social cognitive functions, focusing on social attention in individuals with schizophrenia. Social impairments are core features of schizophrenia that lead to poor outcome. Social skills and competence improve quality of life and protect against stress-related exacerbation of symptoms, while supporting resilience, interpersonal interactions, and social affiliation. Existing psychosocial interventions are moderately effective but the effort-intensive nature (high burden), low adherence, and weak transfer of skills to everyday life present significant hurdles toward recovery. Thus, there is a dire need to develop effective, engaging and low-burden social interventions for people with schizophrenia that will result in better compliance rates and functional outcome.

VR technology offers a flexible alternative to conventional therapies, with several advantages, including a simplified and low-stress social interaction environment with targeted opportunities to simulate, exercise and reinforce basic elements of social skills in a very wide range of realistic scenarios, and to repeat exposure to naturalistic situations from multiple angles. We have designed our desktop VR social skills training game as an ‘intelligent’ system that adaptively adjusts the difficulty of tasks based on participant’s physiological, eye tracking and performance data in real time. Such dynamic feedback-based, ‘closed-loop’ VR enhances training because it adjusts and personalizes the learning environment in real time for each participant so that he/she always learns at an optimal arousal and attentional state.

Furthermore, the VR environment can potentially simulate any social scenarios, which allows the participants to exercise social skills in a wide variety of situations. Such simulation exercises can help generalize learned skills to everyday life. Initial results indicate that this approach is effective in reducing negative symptoms and loneliness and improving social attention.


Representative papers:

  • Bekele, E., Bian, D., Peterman, J.S., Park, S., & Sarkar, N. (2016). Design of a Virtual Reality System for Affect Analysis in Facial Expressions; application to schizophrenia. IEEE Trans Neural Syst Rehabil Eng. 25(6):739-749. PDF version
  • Adery, L.H., Ichinose, M., Torregrossa, L.J., Wade, J., Nichols, H.S., Bekele, E., Bian, D., Gizdic, A., Granholm, E., Sarkar, N., & Park, S. (2018). Acceptability and Feasibility of a Novel Virtual Reality Based Social Skills Training program for Schizophrenia; a pilot study. Psychiatry Research. 270: 496-502. PDF version
  • Buck, L.E., Park, S., & Bodenheimer, R. (2020). Determining Peripersonal Space Boundaries and Their Plasticity  in Relation to Object and Agent Characteristics in an Immersive Virtual Environment.IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces, 332-342. DOI. 10.1109/VR46266.2020.00053 PDF version
  • Lee, H-S., Hong, S-J., Baxter, T., Scott, J., Shenoy, S., Buck, L.E., Bodenheimer, R., & Park S (2021). Altered Peripersonal Space and the Bodily Self in Schizophrenia; A Virtual Reality Study. Schizophrenia Bulletin. 47(4) 927–937 PDF version