The effect of virtual reality exposure on fear of public speaking using cloud-based software

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University of New Brunswick


Anxiety disorders comprise the most common mental disorders faced by the general population. Individuals with anxiety disorders may experience severe limitations in their ability to appropriately engage in occupational, recreational, and social activities; however, accessing a therapist in order to reduce anxiety symptomology can be costly and difficult due to long waitlists. Virtual reality (VR) exposure therapy has been determined to provoke the same level of anxiety as real-life exposure to the parallel circumstance, while reducing face-to-face time with a therapist. However, VR technology is often costly and not easily accessible by either therapist or client. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of a low cost, easy-to-implement form of VR exposure therapy on a specific social phobia, fear of public speaking, without the aid of a therapist. Participants were randomly placed in three different groups. All three groups engaged in a single psychoeducational session before proceeding in the VR research individually. For the first group (I), a single psychoeducational session was delivered on an individual basis before engaging in the VR exposure, whereas for the second group (G), a single psychoeducational session was delivered to several individuals in a group setting before engaging in the VR exposure. The third group (WL) engaged in a psychoeducational session individually, but did not engage in the VR experience. Participants in I and G completed a 6-session exposure treatment in which VR was used to elicit anxiety. Diverse self-report measures were administered to assess various aspects of confidence, anxiety, and apprehension before session 1 and after session 6. During the exposure, participants independently followed guided instructions to reduce their anxiety with relaxation techniques. Dropout rates were also recorded. The data were analyzed using an ANCOVA with the pretest scores as the covariate. The data indicated that the exposure treatments significantly reduced participants’ anxiety and increased confidence and positive self-statements in public speaking compared to the waitlist group. It was also determined that there was no significant difference between groups for drop-out rates. The strengths and limitations of the study were discussed and suggestions for future research were recommended.