Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. In the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a traumatic event is described as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. In case of PTSD, this exposure leads to persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event (e.g., intrusive memories, which are considered to be the hallmark symptom of PTSD), persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, hyperarousal, and negative alterations in cognitions and mood. 


Studying the effects of trauma

The trauma film paradigm is a well-established method to study the effects of psychological trauma under controlled laboratory settings. It typically involves showing non-clinical participants unpleasant films which depict the types of events listed as traumatic in the DSM-5. Moreover, exposure to trauma films elicits measurable responses analogous to symptoms experienced during and shortly after viewing a traumatic event in real life, such as intrusive memories of the film. 

A possible drawback of the trauma film paradigm is that watching films is a somewhat passive endeavor that lacks active behavioral engagement. In this project we are looking into the use of virtual reality (VR) as an alternative, because it can induce a greater 'feeling of presence' and allows interaction with the environment, enabling research on action–reaction associations. In our research we used a VR game designed to induce fear and anxiety; a specific version of "Affected", developed by Fallen Planet Studios.


Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing

Another aim of this project is to develop and test a VR version of an intervention that is commonly used to reduce PTSD symptoms; eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). If effective, this application would allow a therapist to treat multiple patients simultaneously. Alternatively, it could serve as an at-home treatment tool.

  • Psychological trauma
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
  • Virtual reality

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