Have you ever wondered how it feels for people with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders to experience their symptoms? Would you like to understand their condition better? If yes, today you can do it with the help of the latest technology.
Thanks to the talents working on programming, animation and design, it became possible for everybody to experience ‘typical’ symptoms associated with the schizophrenic spectrum and other psychotic disorders. Today, a virtual reality simulation can immerse anybody in hallucinations and paranoid delusional thoughts. But before we dig deeper into schizophrenia simulation, let’s learn more about this mental illness.
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that occurs when emotions are inconsistent with the thinking process. With a long course of the disease there is an impairment of perception, thinking, and memory.
The causes of schizophrenia are not fully understood. But a huge role in its development is given to genetic predisposition, frequent stress, and developmental conditions in childhood.
The onset of the disease usually occurs in adolescence or during the formation of adulthood. The individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia worry that their innermost feelings and emotions are known to others and that those around them influence their mind and behavior.
Delusions and hallucinations (positive symptoms) also characterize schizophrenia. They manifest themselves in the form of extraneous voices, personalities who are trying to influence an individual, thought broadcasting, and sexual disinhibition. As the disease progresses, periods of exacerbation and remission occur from time to time.
A special role in schizophrenia is played by negative symptoms that manifest themselves as personality change, negativism, apathy, and unsociability.
While working on his final project for a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, Nick Farmosa decided to deal with ‘serious games’ and their application in education. He started exploring how to use virtual reality to transform students’ learning experience. His aim was to address two important issues in psychology education, namely the need to safely expose students to experiences with clients and to build better interventions through empathetic understanding.
Nick Farmosa planned to receive the following learning outcomes that define professional success of a psychologist:
– Practitioner empathy
– Diagnostic knowledge
Practitioner empathy could be improved through increasing both empathetic understanding and attitudinal change towards people with mental health disorders, while diagnostic knowledge could be enhanced through better understanding of Schizophrenic Spectrum disorders symptoms.
After setting goals, Nick created a story-line based on real-world case studies that could help learners experience the simulation of a psychotic episode. With the help of 3D-modelling, rigging, animation, and high-quality recordings for environmental sounds and voice sounds, the psychosis simulation was developed.
The Psychosis Experience is based on a story where a fictional character is moving through a virtual house and experiencing symptoms of Schizophrenia such as auditory and visual hallucinations (e.g. glowing ‘sunrays’) as well as paranoid delusional thoughts.
After being involved in simulation, all participants took a test to find out whether key learning outcomes were achieved by them. It turned out that their attitude towards people having psychotic disorders became much more favourable.
Participants’ knowledge also significantly improved after the schizophrenia simulation experience. Even though it didn’t provide any ‘teaching instructions’, individuals gained knowledge about the diagnostic symptomatology of Schizophrenic Spectrum and other psychotic disorders.