Development of an adaptive virtual reality-application for relaxation during stress/fear in the context of medical examinations

In the period from November 2015 to May 2016 Felix examined the possibility to use an adaptive virtual reality application to reduce stress and fear of patients during medical treatments. His work was part of his Master thesis in the subject of Applied Cognitive and Media Science.

Medical examinations are linked with stress and anxiety for the patients. Especially treatments with an unknown surrounding and potentially stressful visual and auditory cues have a high potential to induce a critical amount of stress. This stress can have several negative impacts on the health of patients. To reduce stress and guide the focus of the patients to a non-stress inducing surrounding VRelax was developed.

VRelax is three-dimensional virtual world which is perceived via an HMD. The world is based on a natural setting and acts as an open world. The player can discover the virtual world and play several games to gain achievements. To relax the patient by presenting a calming natural environment, the weather as well as the day of time can be chosen individually. The games within the world are dependent on the capabilities of the patient which are highly regulated by the current stress level. Thus, the stress level of the patient is permanently tracked and classified using the heart rate variability. A high stress level leads to easy games whereas a low stress level leads to more difficult games.

The student’s tasks in the project was to develop an adaptive prototype which could be tested in a field study. For this, the virtual world, interaction possibilities, adaptive algorithms and different interfaces were implemented. Afterward empirical research was conducted by testing the whole system with subjects. The results indicate a physical as well as an introspective reduction of stress while and after using VRelax.