Virtual Reality for Patients With Schizophrenia

Virtual Reality for Patients With Schizophrenia

virtual reality

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

Researchers developed a new VR-SCIT that combined traditional SCIT (TR-SCIT) intervention with VR technology, and compared its effectiveness with that of traditional SCIT.

“VR is immersive, interactive and dynamic, and it elicits psychological responses similar to those found in everyday life. Therefore, it is suitable for simulating a range of social situations and accurately portraying their complexity,” the study authors wrote.1

Researchers separated 87 participants diagnosed with schizophrenia into either a VR-SCIT group or a TR-SCIT group. Findings showed that VR-SCIT had higher treatment adherence than TR-SCIT, which can be partially explained by its gamification-oriented design,2,3 and a comparable efficiency. Both the VR-SCIT and TR-SCIT groups showed statistically significant improvements in the domains of emotion perception, metacognition, hostile attributional bias, and social functioning from baseline. In addition, VR-SCIT showed an advantage over TR-SCIT in improving emotion perception and metacognition with higher treatment adherence; this may be associated with the more intense and immersive training in VR-SCIT than in TR-SCIT.

Virtual reality interventions have had prior success in other settings aimed at evaluating and improving symptoms and functional outcomes in schizophrenia.4-8 This research indicates that VR 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 tentative, it is suggested that the SCIT program, including the VR-based format, should 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. Front Psychiatry. 2022;13:1022278.

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

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

4. Rus-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 effectiveness. Psychol Med. 2018;48(3):362-391.

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

6. Pot-Kolder RMCA, Geraets CNW, Veling W, et al. Virtual-reality-based cognitive behavioral therapy versus waitlist 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: assessment of the test-retest reliability, convergent and ecological validity of CONVIRT. BMC Soul. 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: single-group feasibility and acceptability study. JMIR Mental Health. 2020;7(8):e17808.

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

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

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