This project will develop an immersive video game for children with social anxiety disorder (SAD). The video game will serve as a vehicle to deliver evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in an engaging manner so that its target audience perceives it as entertainment rather than therapy. Social interactions are crucial to success in all areas of life, e.g., classroom, workplace, family, and community. Social anxiety is associated with social avoidance, social skill deficits, low peer acceptance, risk for being bullied, poorer friendship quality, loneliness, depression, and lower educational, and career attainment. CBT in which children gradually face their fears of increasing challenging social situations, i.e., exposure, is the most successful treatment for social anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, only approximately 30% receive treatment, highlighting the need for novel mediums for disseminating treatment. The development of immersive computer game programs that specifically target improving neurobehavioral function requires cross-disciplinary expertise in computer game development, neurobehavioral treatment interventions, and human-computer interaction methods for children with SAD. This cross-discipline need has hindered the full development and validation of new game- based interventions. The project brings together the necessary cross-discipline expertise which can devise the intervention that are best suited for insertion into an immersive game environment;develop the array of human-computer interaction tactics aimed at the intervention, and package it within an engaging, entertaining, immersive computer game. The proposed approach is novel because it merges evidence-based CBT with technology to increase player engagement and strengthen the intervention. The objective of the phase I program is to establish the feasibility of the approach by designing and prototyping a partial implementation of the proposed video game and performing an initial evaluation via a human study.
With a lifetime prevalence of nearly one-in-three adults, anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder (SAD), are the most prevalent mental health problem. Childhood is a critical age for intervention as problematic anxiety begins early in life with a median onset age of 11 years. Unfortunately, approximately 30% receive treatment, highlighting the need for novel mediums for disseminating treatment. This project fulfills this need by delivering evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy via an immersion video game that guides children with SAD through exposure therapy in an engaging and enjoyable manner.