Virtual Reality Emotion Regulation for Youth

Research Overview

In the last ten years, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) has seen a rise in research on how features of interactive technologies can be designed to enhance emotion regulation training–a response in part due to the increase of mental health issues. Youth are a vulnerable population at risk for mental health issues with long wait times to get help. Emotion regulation, the ability to modulate the intensity and duration of emotional states, has been explored as a trans-diagnostic intervention to improve mental health. Youth aged 12-15 use less adaptive or maladaptive emotion regulation strategies (e.g., suppression) that can contribute to depression or anxiety disorders. Thus, training adaptive emotion regulation skills is crucial for this age group. One of the most effective emotion regulation strategies for youth is cognitive reappraisal–changing how we think about a situation in order to decrease its emotional impact. However, learning is difficult because it requires:

(1) generation of meaningful emotionally laden social situations;

(2) real-time feedback of internal psychological and physiological states; and

(3) practice modifying the interpretation of multiple situations.

Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated 3D environment that allows the user to experience a simulated world through stereoscopic 360 visuals, stereo audio, and 3D interaction with tracking sensors. The affordances of VR have been shown to strongly affect human emotional responses and interpretations of social situations when used in other intervention contexts. As such, VR may provide unique opportunities for cognitive reappraisal skills development through three mechanisms:

Mechanism #1: virtual environment–a simulated world that evokes the visceral experience of a realistic emotional response;

Mechanism #2: interaction & feedback–possibilities to control and modify emotionally evocative aspects of the virtual environment;

Mechanism #3: taking multiple perspectives–the ability to put the user in another’s shoes.

As an example, you put on a VR headset and find yourself walking down the halls on the first day of high school; there are lots of new faces and you hope to make a good first impression (Mech #1). You hear the sound of your heart beating and your breathing getting heavier and uneven, and other kids laughing–are they laughing at you (Mech #2)? Luckily, you have a super power that allows you to embody other peoples’ perspectives (Mech #3). You take the VR controller, point it at the older kid who was laughing, and teleport into their virtual body (Mech #2). Suddenly, you can see yourself from their perspective and hear their thoughts–“look at all these new kids. I remember my first day I tripped down the stairs and broke a tooth. So embarrassing!” (Mech #3). You teleport back to your body and hear your heart rate drop to indicate that you have regulated the anxiety response (Mech #2). They weren’t laughing at you, but empathizing with your experience. Seeing and understanding this new perspective is cognitively reappraising the event. In this scenario, VR offers youth a way to practice cognitive reappraisal in a safe, meaningful, and emotionally laden environment with real-time feedback; thus meeting the reappraisal requirements (1-3) listed above, which are normally difficult to meet.

Objectives & Research Questions: There is a rise in VR’s accessibility and popularity among youth (e.g., Oculus Quest 2 VR headset does not require a computer, costs $400 CAD, and has sold over 5 million units). There is a unique opportunity to investigate the overarching research question: can the above three VR mechanisms (Mechanisms #1-3) address the three learning requirements of cognitive reappraisal skill development in youth?

Research Study Participant Recruitment

Updated June 13, 2022

We are currently recruiting teens aged 13-18 to participate in an interview on an emerging field of virtual reality.

Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated 3D environment that allows you to experience a simulated world through stereoscopic 360 visuals, stereo audio, and 3D interaction with tracking sensors. VR has been shown to strongly affect human emotional responses and interpretations of social situations when used in other intervention contexts, e.g., anxiety during public speaking. As such, VR may provide unique opportunities for emotion regulation skills development. 

This interview asks teens to share their experiences with virtual reality, what challenges they face with dealing with emotions, and how they envision a virtual reality experience to help them or their peers overcome those challenges. 

Virtual Reality Experience

We ask that teens try the TRIPP VR demo and complete the survey one week before the interview. TRIPP VR is a guided meditation app that lasts approximately 10 minutes. The demo is free: https://www.tripp.com/. TRIPP VR requires one of these VR headsets:  Oculus Quest/Quest 2, HTC Vive Flow, Oculus Rift/Rift S, or Playstation VR. 

Interview Times

The study will start with a short 10-minute online survey (Survey Monkey) followed by a more in-depth interview over Zoom. Interviews will last 30-45 minutes.

Requested Environment

The interview and survey will be held entirely online. For this reason, a computer or mobile device with a webcam, microphone, and a reliable internet connection are required to participate in this study.

Recording

This study is part of a research project conducted by researchers from Simon Fraser University. The interview will be video and audio recorded and analyzed for research purposes. Once officially registered in the study, we will ask you for consent to use the data that will be collected during the study for the purposes of research.

Compensation

You will be compensated $30 CAD for your time.

How to apply

If you are interested, then please fill out the Interest Form. This will help us plan appropriately for a specific number of potential participants. 

If you know of other teens who might be interested in participating, then please forward our information to them with the interest form so that they may contact us directly if they wish to participate. We ask that you do not forward their email or information to us for privacy reasons. Instead, they can contact us if they are interested. 

Thanks for your consideration.

Best regards,

Dr. Alexandra Kitson and the Tangible Embodied Child-Computer Interaction Research Team

Team

Alex Kitson, Project and Design Lead

Alissa Antle, Project and Design Co-Lead

Annemiek Veldhuis, Research Assistant

Madison Gara, Visiting Research Student

John Ordoyo, Research Assistant

Artun Cimensel, Research Assistant

Amy Guo, Research Volunteer