Virtual reality for patients with schizophrenia

virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) technology could be effective in the treatment of patients with schizophrenia who suffer from motivational deficits and low adherence to treatment. According to preliminary findings of a recent study, VR-based social cognition and interaction training (VR-SCIT) is a promising method for improving social cognition and functioning in patients with schizophrenia.

The researchers developed a novel VR-SCIT that combined the traditional SCIT intervention (TR-SCIT) with VR technology and compared its efficacy with that of traditional SCIT.

“Virtual reality is immersive, interactive and dynamic, triggering psychological reactions similar to those that occur in everyday life. Therefore, it is suitable for simulating a variety of social situations and accurately representing their complexity,” the study authors wrote.1

The researchers separated 87 participants diagnosed with schizophrenia into either a VR-SCIT group or a TR-SCIT group. The results showed that VR-SCIT had a greater adherence to treatment than TR-SCIT, which can be partly explained by its gamification-oriented design,23 and comparable efficacy. Both the VR-SCIT and TR-SCIT groups demonstrated statistically significant improvements in the domains of emotion perception, metacognition, hostile attributional bias, and social functioning from baseline. Furthermore, VR-SCIT showed an advantage over TR-SCIT in improving emotion perception and metacognition with greater treatment compliance; this may be associated with the more intense and immersive training in VR-SCIT than in TR-SCIT.

Virtual reality interventions have had previous success in other settings aimed at assessing and improving symptoms and functional outcomes in schizophrenia.4-8 This research indicates that virtual reality may be useful as a stand-alone or adjunctive treatment for patients with schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses.9.10

“The present study provides the first evidence that VR-SCIT has the potential to improve social cognition in patients with schizophrenia,” the authors said.1 “Although preliminary, it is suggested that the SCIT program, including the VR-based format, become part of routine clinical interventions for patients with schizophrenia.”


1. Shen ZH, Liu MH, Wu Y, et al. Virtual reality-based social cognition and interaction training for patients with schizophrenia: a preliminary efficacy study. frontal psychiatry. 2022;13:1022278.

2. Sardi L, Idri A, Fernández-Germán JL. A systematic review of gamification in e-Health. J Biomed Inform. 2017;71:31-48.

3. Vajawat B, Varshney P, Banerjee D. Digital game interventions in psychiatry: evidence, applications, and challenges. Res of Psychiatry. 2021;295:113585.

4. Ruso-Calafell M, Garety P, Sason E, et al. Virtual reality in the assessment and treatment of psychosis: a systematic review of its utility, acceptability, and efficacy. medical psychology. 2018;48(3):362-391.

5. Park KM, KuJ, Choi SH, et al. A virtual reality role-playing application of social skills training for schizophrenia: a randomized controlled trial. Res of Psychiatry. 2011;189(2):166-172.

6. Pot-Colder RMCA, Geraets CNW, Veling W, et al. Virtual reality-based cognitive behavioral therapy versus waiting list control for paranoid ideation and social avoidance in patients with psychotic disorders: a single-blind randomized controlled trial. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(3):217-226.

7. Horan B, Heckenberg R, Maruff P, Wright B. Development of a new virtual reality test of cognition: evaluation of the test-retest reliability, convergence and ecological validity of CONVIRT. BMC Psychology. 2020;8(1):61.

8. Nijman SA, Veling W, Greaves-Lord K, et al. Dynamic interactive social cognition training in virtual reality (DiSCoVR) for people with a psychotic disorder: a single group feasibility and acceptability study. JMIR Ment Health. 2020;7(8):e17808.

9. Adery LH, Ichinose M, Torregrossa LJ, et al. The acceptability and feasibility of a novel virtual reality-based social skills training game for schizophrenia: preliminary findings. Res of Psychiatry. 2018;270:496-502.

10. Freeman D, Reeve S, Robinson A, et al. Virtual reality in the evaluation, understanding and treatment of mental health disorders. medical psychology. 2017;47:2393-2400.

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