Developing a virtual reality environment for educational and therapeutic application to investigate psychological reactivity to bullying
Badger JR., Rovira A., Freeman D., Bowes L.
Understanding how bullying victimisation influences cognitive and emotional processes may help to direct early intervention to prevent the development of psychopathology. In a convenience sample of 67 female adolescents, we assessed the potential of a newly developed classroom-set bullying experience in virtual reality (VR) to evoke psychological reactions. Two VR experiences were co-developed with young people, one neutral and one hostile (bullying). Participants were matched and assigned to a condition based on measures of anxiety, depression, paranoia, and previous bullying, before experiencing either the neutral or hostile scenario. Before and after the VR session, participants completed measures of negative affect and levels of distress. All participants remained immersed for the whole duration, which supports the acceptability of using these VR experiences with more vulnerable participants. Those experiencing the hostile version reported greater negative affect post-immersion compared to those experiencing the neutral version (p =.018; d = 0.61). Although non-significant, a similar outcome was found regarding distress (p =.071; d = 0.37). Whilst we did not find a significant relationship between pre-existing internalisation on negative affect and distress, our sample was limited by containing adolescents with relatively low levels of previous bullying experience. Yet we still found evidence that the VR scenario evoked bullying-related psychological reactions. Further testing with a more representative groups of adolescents, especially those with more experience of bullying, would be advised. The VR scenario could potentially be used in educational and therapeutic settings to enhance empathy towards victimised children or enhance resilience following victimisation.