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A Virtual Reality Game to Assess Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Publication year 2017
Published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Authors Martine J van Bennekom, M Soemiati Kasanmoentalib, P.P. De Koning, D. Denys

The retrospective and subjective nature of clinical interviews is an important shortcoming of current psychiatric diagnosis. Consequently, there is a clear need for objective and standardized tools. Virtual reality (VR) can be used to achieve controlled symptom provocation, which allows direct assessment for the clinician. We developed a video VR game to provoke and assess obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms in a standardized and controlled environment. The first objective was to evaluate if the VR game is capable of provoking symptoms in OCD patients as opposed to healthy controls. The second objective was to evaluate the tolerability of the VR game in OCD patients. The VR game was created using a first-person perspective and confronted patients with 15 OCD-specific items, while simultaneously measuring OCD symptoms, including the number of compulsions, anxiety, tension, uncertainty, and urge to control. In this pilot study, eight patients and eight healthy controls performed the VR game. OCD patients performed significantly more compulsions (U = 5, p = 0.003) during the VR game. The anxiety, tension, uncertainty, and urge to control in response to the specific items were also higher for OCD patients, although significance was not yet reached because of the small sample. There were no substantial adverse effects. The results of this pilot study indicate that the VR game is capable of provoking a variety of OCD symptoms in OCD patients, as opposed to healthy controls, and is a potential valuable tool to objectify and standardize an OCD diagnosis.

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