Skip to content

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.

Woman using a virtual reality headset
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

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email; or Dave Rogers, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782, or via email.

    Universities Human Resources

    Universities Human Resources (UHR) is the professional organisation representing HR professionals working at universities in the UK and Eire. The executive committee is made up of a chair, treasurer and secretary, and meets up every four months to formulate policy, and give strategic direction to the association. UHR works with bodies such as Universities UK, UCCEA and GuildHE to provide co-ordinated responses to consultations by bodies such as the Funding Councils and government.

    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.

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has been awarded the highest, gold, rating in the Government’s
    Teaching Excellence Framework for its outstanding teaching and learning.

    NTU is one of the largest UK universities with nearly 28,000 students and more than 3,500 staff across four campuses, contributing £496m to the UK economy every year. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly universities, containing some of the country’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.

    The University is passionate about
    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.

    With an international student population of approximately 2,600 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its
    global outlook.

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