Can virtual reality help teens deal with social anxiety, ADHD, and more?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Learn more about Center for BrainHealth's virtual reality research and programs.

Read the latest published study on Center for BrainHealth's virtual reality social cognition training program.

Transcript of the video:

Savannah Guthrie

We're kicking off something new this morning we are calling it brainpower. All about strengthening your mind to improve your life. 

Matt Lauer

That's right and here to get us started is our special anchor, Maria Shriver. Maria, good to see you as always. 

 

Maria Shriver

Brainpower. Remember that to get us started. Well today we are going to take you inside the teenage brain, a mysterious place for sure, and as parents, we all want our kids to thrive and make friends but many teens suffer from social anxiety. Well now one innovative program is retraining their brains to be more socially confident using some very familiar technology. It looks like a video game, but this is actually a high-tech classroom, training the brains of shy teens, like Jeff and Charlotte, to be more social. 

 

Jeff (Student)

I've learned how to start a conversation, just how to break the ice. 

 

Maria Shriver to Charlotte (Student)

You're more confident.

 

Charlotte (Student)

Yah, because normally I am not like that. 

 

Maria Shriver

Call it the Teen Socialization Lab. Based at the Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas, it's run by cognitive neuroscientist , Dan Krawczyk. 

 

Dan Krawczyk

A lot of the skills that we need in life, link back to the brain. 

 

Maria Shriver

His virtual lab designed to help kids overcome social anxiety, aggression, and bullying. 

 

Maria Shriver to Dan Krawczyk

Do you find that the kids that come in here are in many ways more comfortable in a virtual world than the quote real world? 

 

Dan Krawczyk

I think it does make that more appealing and less threatening, especially with individuals who are anxious, socially. 

 

Tandra Allen to Jeff (Student)

Alright.

 

Maria Shriver

Here's how the program works. First, kids have their social skills tested.

 

Tandra Allen to Jeff (Student)

Have a lot of different emotions. 

 

Maria Shriver

Then they enter the virtual reality lab, where their avatar faces social challenges involving other kids and adults.

 

Maria Shriver

Jeff, a college freshman with mild Asperger's struggles with new social situations.

 

Jeff (Student)

I have a hard time of putting words and ideas together easily as other people do. 

 

Maria Shriver

So, today he is conversing with a new roommate. 

 

Jeff (Student) speaking to Computer Avatar

Have you gotten classes all settled? 

 

Maria Shriver

His counselor next door coaching him through it. 

 

Tandta Allen

That's a good sign from him.

 

Maria Shriver

Pausing and replaying the interaction until he does better. The program is ten, one-hour sessions over five weeks. Jeff says he feels socially confident for the first time, even in a network TV interview with me. 

 

Maria Shriver to Jeff (Student)

Were you nervous about this? 

 

Jeff (Student)

Yah, I was getting a little bit of jitters but I was thinking stay focused and relaxed. I think this program has definitely helped me to connect to the topics better, and connect to what you're saying. 

 

Maria Shriver

Two published studies find the program gives subjects like Jeff, better social skills. Krawsik says it actually can re-wire their brains, boosting the areas responsible for sociability. 

 

Computer Avatar to Charlotte (Student)

I have this project due tomorrow.

 

Charlotte (Student)

Well, how much do you have to do of it? 

 

Maria Shriver

It helped Charlotte, an 8th grader with ADHD become more socially perceptive. Her mom says now that she interrupts less and listens more.

 

Charlotte's Mom

Before it was all about what she thought and then she would impulsively jump in and then she would get a bad response. So, what this has been able to do is let her think about what other people are thinking or feeling and then how she can react appropriately.

 

Maria Shriver to Charlotte

Do you find that you are able to converse with your friends better now.

 

Charlotte

Yes, they are like, Charlotte, you're changed. I'm like, yah. 

 

Maria Shriver

Well right now the virtual reality program is only available in Dallas and it costs about $1,800 per student. But researchers are trying to raise funds to spread it to school and counselors nation wide, because I really think it will be effective in all schools for kids of all ages. 

 

Savannah Guthrie

By the way, I think these kids are so courageous, to go on and do a big interview, and go through that process on a big stage, I think that's really cool. 

 

Maria Shriver

And it was fascinating to watch them work through these situations and they say you can actually watch how their brains calm down and then allow them to interact, allow them to think, allow them to have a completely different life.

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