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Development of a virtual reality laboratory stressor


This research report describes the development of a virtual reality (VR) laboratory stressor to study the effects of exposure to stressful events. The aim of the research was to develop a VR simulation that would evoke stressor responses at a level that was tolerable for participants. Veterans with and without warzone-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were presented with VR simulations of combat stressors. There was one complaint of feeling hot during simulations but no incidents of simulator sickness. Participants denied experiencing the simulations as overly distressing, and there were no reports of any distress or problems related to study participation when they were contacted two weeks after the VR challenge. Simulations elicited moderate levels of anxiety and mild levels of dissociation that were significantly greater in Veterans with PTSD. Simulations were less successful in eliciting differential heart rate reactivity and stress hormone secretion, though history of civilian trauma exposure was associated with elevated heart rates during the second simulation. The study demonstrated that the VR paradigm was feasible and tolerable and that it holds promise as a new method with which to conduct controlled laboratory research on the effects of exposure to stressful events.

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This study was supported by NIH Loan Repayment and Weill Medical College of Cornell University Faculty Grants awarded to the first author. These agencies had no involvement in the design or execution of the research or in the writing of research manuscripts.

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Correspondence to Cezar Giosan.

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Malta, L.S., Giosan, C., Szkodny, L.E. et al. Development of a virtual reality laboratory stressor. Virtual Reality 25, 293–302 (2021).

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