About This Project
A doctoral dissertation on the implications of VR tech in psychological research. The dissertation is comprised of three studies: the effects of VR gaming on flame trolling, the effects of VR gaming on helping behavior, and the potential for VR to serve as a self-directed exposure therapy for specific phobias. These studies aim to explore the various implications of VR technology within psychological research and therapeutic settings.
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What is the context of this research?
This project contains two themes: the influences of VR gaming, and the potential for self-directed VR therapy. The themes stem from the violent video game and self-help literature, respectively, but integrate the use of VR as a new catalyst to immerse and engage individuals for an experience that other forms of technology are incapable of achieving.
The effects of violent gaming on aggression remains inconclusive due to a dispute on the significance of small effect sizes, but it may be that relational, not physical, aggression may better represent the types of aggression performed while gaming.
VR may also serve as a new method to deliver self-help treatment for specific phobias, bringing the benefits of VR therapy for individuals without access to a therapist.
What is the significance of this project?
As the latest versions of VR are still relatively new, there has yet to be enough research investigating the effect of this technology on social behaviors, especially as modern VR headsets come with online interactions. By investigating the potential influences of VR experiences on behavior, a better understanding can be established as to whether behaviors exhibited in VR is exclusive to virtual interactions, or whether the experiences will also incrementally influence real world behaviors.
If self-directed virtual reality exposure therapies for specific phobias are shown to be successful, this paves the way for a new option to treat minor psychological dysfunctions, and reach more people who cannot or will not seek traditional treatment.
What are the goals of the project?
This project has 2 goals: 1) Evaluate whether behaviors being performed in VR will influence behavior in real life, and 2) Evaluate the potential for self-directed virtual reality exposure therapy in the treatment of acrophobia. The research project will incorporate both classic and novel methodologies, with classic methodologies serving as a foundation for the research, and novel methodologies serving to address some of the criticisms of past research.
Statistical analyses for the pre- and post-experimental assessments will be used to identify any significant findings. Experiments will follow a 3-month longitudinal design, which allows us to infer long-term findings for both behavioral influences and treatment outcomes, longer than most previous studies.
The main components needing funding involve participant compensation, VR hardware, and the heart rate tracker. As each study will be held over the course of 12 weeks, it was deemed necessary to offer monetary compensation for 2 of the 3 studies at 10 pounds per participant. All of the outlined hardware expenses are necessary for displaying the content planned for each of the three experiments.
A VR ready laptop was chosen as the main computing equipment due to a potential need to mobilize the experiment throughout different rooms based on availability. While a VR ready desktop would be significantly cheaper, it would not be as easy to transfer the equipment on a daily or weekly basis.
While I am from the US, my program at the moment is in the UK, therefore all costs have been accounted for based on a 1 Pound to 1.30 USD conversion rate.
The timeline set here is representative of my goals during the doctoral program. Initially begun in February 2017, my goal is to finish the program in its entirety by December 2018, or May 2019 at the very latest.
May 29, 2017
Sep 28, 2017
Begin the first set of experimentations
Dec 28, 2017
Complete the first set of experiments
Jan 22, 2018
Begin the second set of experiments
Feb 28, 2018
Present collected findings to dissertation committee
Meet the Team
Hello! My name is Theo and I've been conducting research since my sophomore year of undergrad in 2011. I hold a B.A. in psychology from Tusculum College, and a M.A. in psychology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Since January 2017, I have been pursuing my doctoral degree from the University of Bolton in the United Kingdom.
Social psychology and technology has always been fascinating to me, as the way we interact socially seems to change as technology progresses. My current research interests reflect this, as they are on utilizing new forms of technology in psychological research, specifically in the form of virtual reality head mounted displays. Coupled with my interest in video game research, part of my current project is to investigate whether gaming in virtual reality can influence real world behaviors, while another component of my current project is to evaluate the potential of self-directed virtual reality exposure therapy for specific phobias.
This project is a doctoral dissertation and includes many different components. For a more comprehensive overview, please refer to the lab notes for a brief background on the literature and the methodology for each study. If you have any inquiries, please feel free to ask any question(s), and I'd be happy to discuss them with you!
Cover photo credit: The Huffington Post UK
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