Social virtual reality helps to reduce feelings of loneliness and social anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic

Keith Kenyon, Vitalia Kinakh, Jacqui Harrison

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Abstract

Evidence shows that the Covid-19 pandemic caused increased loneliness, anxiety and greater social isolation due to social distancing policies. Virtual reality (VR) provides users with an easy way to become engaged in social activities without leaving the house. This study focused on adults, who were socialising in Altspace VR, a social VR platform, during the Covid-19 pandemic and it explored whether social VR could alleviate feelings of loneliness and social anxiety. A mixed-methods research design was applied. Participants (n = 74), aged 18–75, completed a questionnaire inside the social VR platform to measure levels of loneliness (UCLA 20-item scale) and social anxiety (17-item SPIN scale) in the social VR platform (online condition) and real world (offline condition). Subsequently, a focus group (n = 9) was conducted to gather insights into how and why participants were using the social VR platform. Findings from the questionnaire revealed significantly lower levels of loneliness and social anxiety when in the social VR platform. Lower levels of loneliness and social anxiety were also associated with participants who socialised with a regular group of friends. In addition, findings from the focus group suggested that being part of an online group facilitates stronger feelings of belonging. Social VR can be used as a valuable intervention to reduce feelings of loneliness and social anxiety. Future studies should continue to establish whether social VR can help to encourage group formation and provide people with enhanced social opportunities beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19282
Number of pages15
JournalNature Scientific Reports
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2023

Keywords

  • Adult
  • Anxiety
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Loneliness
  • Pandemics
  • Social Isolation
  • Virtual Reality

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