Using Virtual Reality to Build Resistance to Distraction

UC Davis
Davis, California
Computer SciencePsychology
DOI: 10.18258/1906
Raised of $1,500 Goal
Funded on 9/10/14
Successfully Funded
  • $1,510
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 9/10/14

About This Project

We are developing an intervention that takes a new approach to distraction in ADHD. Our goal is to use this intervention to help children with attention problems achieve their full potential in the classroom. By leveraging exciting advances in virtual reality technology and in game design, our Virtual Classroom will help children naturally build resistance to realistic distractions over time. We need your support now!

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What is the context of this research?

Poor attention is associated with challenges in everyday cognitive, social (e.g., peer relationships) and academic functioning (reading & math achievement).

Advances in virtual reality technology have led to innovative therapies for treating anxiety and PTSD. Our goal is to develop a new virtual reality intervention to improve attentional functioning, where children learn to habituate to distractions within a Virtual Classroom. Children will complete cognitive tasks (e.g., math) while learning to ignore virtual kids talking in the classroom, pencils being sharpened, a virtual teacher walking across a classroom, a student sneezing and other common distractors. Kids will practice the therapy at home with the OculusRift and we will test its effectiveness on task performance and behavior.

What is the significance of this project?

Problems with attention are very common (about 5% of kids and adults). Negative outcomes include a lower chance of graduating from high school and higher risks of substance abuse and arrests. Current treatments have short-term benefits but often do not lead to long-term improvements.The development of effective, nonmedication interventions for attentional impairments is critical to fill the void.

Successful treatment of attentional impairments has potential relevance to the majority of developmental disorders and psychiatric conditions, including ADHD, schizophrenia and autism. The development of precise treatments for attentional impairments can have wide applicability to help people be more successful in school and work settings where distractors are more common than ever (e.g., texts).

What are the goals of the project?

Primary goals:
  • Develop the software (using existing platforms and avatars)
  • Establish proof-of-principle
  • Pilot test feasibility
  • Gather preliminary outcome data
After successfully developing the virtual therapy classroom software with distractors, we will test it in a small group of children and use the pilot data for funding future grants and large-scale clinical trials.

This project is an important first step toward developing an improved behavioral therapy for attention problems. Based on the success of this project, our future goals would be to update the virtual classroom to make it even more realistic, adapt it to so that we could target treatment based upon an individual's specific problems.


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We will need the following items in order for us to build the software:

  • The new Oculus Rift headset that will allow the child to view their classroom with a 360 degree experience so no matter where they look, they will look into different vantage points within the classroom
  • Software development to build the virtual reality classroom, including:
    • A set of avatars (characters) who will sit in the classroom and look like students and a teacher
    • Distractors one would find in a classroom. Distractor examples include:
      • Kids talking to one another
      • A child sharpening a pencil
      • A teacher walking across a classroom
      • A clock ticking
      • A child sneezing

Meet the Team

Julie Schweitzer, Ph.D.
Julie Schweitzer, Ph.D.
Cynthia Krafft, Ph.D.
Cynthia Krafft, Ph.D.
Songpoom Benyakorn M.D.
Songpoom Benyakorn M.D.
Catherine Fassbender, Ph.D.
Catherine Fassbender, Ph.D.
Steven Riley
Steven Riley
J. Faye Dixon, PhD
J. Faye Dixon, PhD

Team Bio

Julie Schweitzer, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, earned a bachelor’s degree at USC and her PhD, at the University of Massachusetts in Psychology. She completed a clinical psychology internship at the University of Minnesota and postdoctoral training at Emory University. As an assistant professor at Emory she began her work in brain imaging, attentional and substance abuse disorders. She started at the University of California, Davis and the MIND Institute in 2007.

Her team studies the consequences of attentional challenges, prevention of these devastating consequences and novel ways to treat them. She also studies substance abuse disorders, autism and Fragile X with funding from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense and Merck Foundation.

She is also the Co-Director of the MCRTP at UC Davis CTSC where her goal is to develop a cadre of multidisciplinary clinical and translational researchers through effective research education, training and career development.

Songpoom Benyakorn M.D.

Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in ADHD, UC Davis, MIND Institute.
and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Srinakharinwirot University, Bangkok

Project Backers

  • 22Backers
  • 100%Funded
  • $1,510Total Donations
  • $68.64Average Donation
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