Study to explore how virtual reality can reduce fear of public speaking

Psychologists at Nottingham Trent University are exploring how virtual reality can help people with social anxiety to overcome their fear of speaking in public.

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Psychologists are looking for participants to take part in the study

Psychologists at Nottingham Trent University are exploring how virtual reality can help people with social anxiety to overcome their fear of speaking in public.

The study uses virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) to place participants in a simulated lecture theatre environment.

Using a head-mounted display and an app developed by the University’s School of Science and Technology, users are able to control the audience size and change their expressions to positive, neutral or negative. They also have the option to change other aspects in the virtual environment such as their distance from the audience and the number of prompts they are given on the speech topic using three difficulty levels.

The first phase of the study saw participants complete two 20-minute VRET sessions across two weeks. Public-speaking anxiety, social anxiety and fear of negative evaluation were measured after each VRET session and at one-month follow-up.

For phase two of the study biofeedback has been introduced so that users can monitor their physiological reactions in the environment. A
headband, which records electrical activity of the brain, measures how negative or anxious the person feels, while a wristband tracks the heart rate and arousal state of the user.

Dr Eva Zysk, senior lecturer
in the University’s School of Social Sciences and principal investigator of the phase one study, said: “Our initial findings have shown an improvement among the participants – they chose higher levels of difficulty at the end of each session compared to the start of each session and reported a significant improvement on measures of public speaking anxiety and performance-related social anxiety.


Dr Preethi Premkumar, senior lecturer, is leading phase two of the study. She added: “We’re testing the effectiveness of VRET, because it can work just as well as real-life exposure therapy. Because it is self-guided, VRET empowers the user with personal control over their exposure to the simulated social environment, without risking over-exposing them to social threat.

“The biofeedback allows us to assess whether user monitoring of their physical reactions helps with further reducing their social anxiety.”

Members of the public interested in taking part in phase two must complete a short screening survey. If eligible, they will be invited to take part in three sessions during a three-week period at Nottingham Trent University, with £45 in vouchers as payment. For further information email Preethi Premkumar

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    Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University was named University of the Year 2017 at the Times Higher Education Awards and Modern University of the Year in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018. The award recognises NTU for its strong student satisfaction, quality of teaching, overall student experience and engagement with employers.

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    creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable Nottingham Trent to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is the sixth biggest recruiter of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the country and 95.6% of the its graduates go on to employment or further education within six months of leaving.

    NTU is home to world-class research, winning
    The Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015 - the highest national honour for a UK university. It recognised the University’s pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula and combat food fraud.

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Study to explore how virtual reality can reduce fear of public speaking

Published on 8 June 2018
  • Subject area: Psychology, sociology, health and social care
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences

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