Effectiveness and User Experience of Virtual Reality for Social Anxiety Disorder: Systematic Review

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BACKGROUND: Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a debilitating psychiatric disorder that affects occupational and social functioning. Virtual reality (VR) therapies can provide effective treatment for people with SAD. However, with rapid innovations in immersive VR technology, more contemporary research is required to examine the effectiveness and concomitant user experience outcomes (ie, safety, usability, acceptability, and attrition) of emerging VR interventions for SAD.OBJECTIVE: The aim of this systematic review was to examine the effectiveness and user experience of contemporary VR interventions among people with SAD.METHODS: The Cochrane Library, Emcare, PsycINFO, PubMed, ScienceDirect, Scopus, and Web of Science databases were searched between January 1, 2012, and April 26, 2022. Deduplicated search results were screened based on title and abstract information. Full-text examination was conducted on 71 articles. Studies of all designs and comparator groups were included if they appraised the effectiveness and user experience outcomes of any immersive VR intervention among people with SAD. A standardized coding sheet was used to extract data on key participant, intervention, comparator, outcome, and study design items.RESULTS: The findings were tabulated and discussed using a narrative synthesis. A total of 18 studies met the inclusion criteria.CONCLUSIONS: The findings showed that VR exposure therapy-based interventions can generally provide effective, safe, usable, and acceptable treatments for adults with SAD. The average attrition rate from VR treatment was low (11.36%) despite some reported user experience difficulties, including potential simulator sickness, exposure-based emotional distress, and problems with managing treatment delivered in a synchronous group setting. This review also revealed several research gaps, including a lack of VR treatment studies on children and adolescents with SAD as well as a paucity of standardized assessments of VR user experience interactions. More studies are required to address these issues.TRIAL REGISTRATION: PROSPERO CRD42022353891; https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=353891.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere48916
Pages (from-to)e48916
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Publication statusPublished - 08 Feb 2024


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