Virtual reality for patients with schizophrenia

virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) technology could be effective in treating patients with schizophrenia who suffer from motivational deficits and low adherence to therapy. According to the preliminary results 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 novel VR-SCIT that combined traditional SCIT (TR-SCIT) intervention with VR technology and compared its effectiveness to traditional SCIT.

“VR is immersive, interactive and dynamic, eliciting psychological responses similar to those experienced in everyday life. It is therefore suitable for simulating different social situations and precisely depicting their complexity,” write the study authors.1

Researchers divided 87 participants diagnosed with schizophrenia into either a VR-SCIT group or a TR-SCIT group. The results showed that VR-SCIT had higher therapy adherence than TR-SCIT, which can be partially explained by its game-oriented design,2.3 and comparable effectiveness. Both the VR-SCIT and TR-SCIT groups showed statistically significant improvements from baseline in the domains of emotion perception, metacognition, hostile attribution bias, and social functioning. In addition, VR-SCIT showed an advantage over TR-SCIT in improving emotion perception and metacognition with higher treatment compliance; this may be related to the more intense and immersive training in VR-SCIT than in TR-SCIT.

Virtual reality interventions have had success in other settings aimed at assessing and improving symptoms and functional outcomes in schizophrenia.4-8 This research shows that VR can be useful as a standalone or adjunctive treatment for patients with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.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 preliminary, 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. Frontline 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 usefulness, acceptability, and effectiveness. Psychology Med. 2018;48(3):362-391.

5. Park KM, Ku J, Choi SH, et al. A virtual reality application in role-playing games of social skills training in 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 wait-list control for paranoid imagination 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 cognition test: Assessing the test-retest reliability, convergence and ecological validity of CONVIRT. BMC Psychol. 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 Ment Health. 2020;7(8):e17808.

9. Adery LH, Ichinose M, Torregrossa LJ, et al. The acceptability and feasibility of a novel virtual reality-based social skills training game in schizophrenia: preliminary results. 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 Disorders. Psychology Med. 2017;47:2393-2400.