Social phobia, one of the most often occurring anxiety disorders, is estimated to affect 13.3% of the members of the US population (Kessler et al., 1994) and 6.7% of the European population (Fehm et al. 2005) during their live. The effect of this phobia on patients includes depression, substance abuse (e.g. alcoholism, drug abuse), restricted socialisation (e.g. romantic, professional, and everyday informal social interaction), and poor employment and education performance (Kessler, 2003). People with a social phobia have a strong fear of one or more social situations, such as talking in public, entering a room with other people, ordering food in a restaurant etc. In general these people fear that they will act embarrassingly in these situations and that others will judge them in a negative way because of signs of fear they might display. Although sufferers recognise that their fear is irrational, they feel extremely uncomfortable which often results in avoiding behaviour such as not attending parties, or changing their job. People that seek help for this disorder are often treated or trained with exposure in vivo (i.e. exposure to actual real-life situations) or with cognitive behavioural therapy. Although exposure in vivo is an effective method, it is limited due to the unpredictability of most social situations as it depends on the reaction of other people. One potential way of overcoming these problems is to use Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) where people are exposed in Virtual Reality (VR) to situations they fear. The work of team focuses on creating and evaluating VR worlds that might be used to treat people with social phobia.
Relevant work done in this context
- Recreating a social situation in Virtual Reality
- Virtual conversation
- Non-verbal communication in virtual environments
Fehm, L., Pelissolo, A., Furmark, T., and Wittchen, H.-U. (2005) Size and burden of social phobia in Europe. European Neuropsycholopharmacology, 15(4), 453-462.
Kessler, R.C. (2006) The impairments caused by social phobia in the general population: implications for intervention. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 108(s417), 19-27.
Kessler, R.C., McGonagle, K.A., Zhao, S., Nelson, C.B., Hughes, M., Eshleman, S., and Wittchen, H.-U. (1994) Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders in the United States. Archives of General Psychiatry, 51, 8-19.