Virtual reality has been applied in many ways from health and safety to soft skills training, more recently it has also been seen to have a positive impact upon individuals emotion regulation. This can can in turn allow effective management of emotions in specific situations and improve overall work output.
What is Emotion Regulation and why is it Important?
Emotion regulation can be defined as the process by which individuals influence the emotions they have, when they have them, and how they are experienced and expressed. These processes can be automatic (unconscious) or controlled (conscious), and commonly involve the strategies of expressive suppression and cognitive reappraisal. Expressive suppression involves reducing physical expressions in order to control positive or negative feelings of emotion, whereas cognitive reappraisal involves changing the meaning of the emotional event, therefore altering the emotional experience of it. These emotions and feelings can be positive or negative, with emotion regulation allowing for them to be enhanced, diminished, effectively used and controlled.
Emotion regulation is important as it acts as a modifier, helping individuals to identify the most important pieces of information which can then be attended to without causing undesirable emotions for that specific situation (Wegner et al., 1993). Therefore, the way in which these emotions are felt and interpreted affects how an individual thinks, their decision making and consequent actions.
How does Virtual Reality Deliver an Improvement in Emotion Regulation?
VR allows for the learning of more adaptive emotion regulation strategies to be experimented with and implemented into specific situations in the virtual world. The virtual world allows for recreation of realistic, yet digital, environments which can inspire new actions, increase awareness involving one’s emotions and thus allow modifications of the emotional response (Vita et al., 2021). These virtual environments have been seen to be significantly effective in improving individuals’ emotion regulation, enhancing their emotion regulation skills (Hadley et al., 2019). This in turn can be applied to real life situations which cause an emotional response, therefore regulating their emotions effectively.
Research has illustrated these reported benefits through the use of brain electrical activity software, which recorded and highlighted significant levels of activation in the brain regions when VR was implemented. These brain regions were associated with the two emotional regulation strategies of cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression (Rodríguez et al., 2015). Due to this, specific programmes have been developed in VR in order to train and enhance these strategies of cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression (Colombo et al., 2021). These VR training programmes, which have been seen to improve emotion regulation, also facilitate the promotion of wellbeing (Colombo et al., 2021; Montana et al., 2020), making them useful to implement within high stress virtual workplace environment simulations. In turn, this will boost employee’s productivity and satisfaction due to negative emotions, such as stress and anxiety, being successfully addressed outside of the virtual environment.
Commercial Video Games have a Role too
Specifically, VR induces positive effects upon emotion regulation, but more broadly, so does playing commercial video games. Video games are thought to promote emotion regulation in a similar way as VR, with the virtual environment offering a safe space in which differing emotion regulation strategies can be experimented with according to the situation. They can be implemented in order to decrease negative emotions, such as stress as well as encouraging positive emotions (Pallavicini et al., 2018; Russoniello et al., 2017), with high levels of immersion within video games thought to be responsible for the increased levels of emotion regulation effectiveness (Hemenover & Bowman, 2018). Furthering this, action video games specifically have been seen to enhance cognitive skills which are directly related to emotion regulation effectiveness (Dale & Green, 2017; Greenfield et al., 1994). It can therefore be deduced that regularly playing video games provide a framework for effective emotion regulation (Gaetan et al., 2016).
How does VRE Utilise these Findings?
Interestingly, as mentioned above, high levels of immersion can be responsible for improved emotion regulation. Because of this, it would be appropriate to assume that VR would provide a more effective method for emotion regulation training compared to commercial video games due to its higher levels of immersion. This can lead onto the topic of how VR environments can be a facilitator for successful emotion regulation in real life situations.
VRE implements the latest thinking in psychology and apply this to our VR teambuilding services and also our leadership and team development platforms.
Our VR services promote improved teamwork skills and as some workplace situations can cause negative emotions of stress, it is of benefit to identify how particular virtual environments within VR can be useful in facilitating improved emotion regulation in order to transfer these skills to the real-life workplace situations. This can lead to improved decision making, productivity, teamwork and overall satisfaction of both employer and employee.
Colombo, D., Díaz-García, A., Fernandez-Álvarez, J., & Botella, C. (2021). Virtual reality for the enhancement of emotion regulation. In Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy (Vol. 28, Issue 3, pp. 519–537). John Wiley and Sons Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/cpp.2618
Dale, G., & Green, S. C. (2017). The Changing Face of Video Games and Video Gamers: Future Directions in the Scientific Study of Video Game Play and Cognitive Performance. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 1(3), 280–294. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-017-0015-6
Gaetan, S., Bréjard, V., Bonnet, A., Brejard, V., & Bonnet, A. (2016). Video games in adolescence and emotional functioning: Emotion regulation, emotion intensity, emotion expression, and alexithymia. Computers , 61, 344–349. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.03.027ï
Greenfield, P. M., Brannon, C., & Lohr, D. (1994). two-dimensional representation of movement through three dimensioal space the role of video game expertise. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 87–103.
Hadley, W., Houck, C., Brown, L. K., Spitalnick, J. S., Ferrer, M., & Barker, D. (2019). Moving beyond Role-Play: Evaluating the Use of Virtual Reality to Teach Emotion Regulation for the Prevention of Adolescent Risk Behavior Within a Randomized Pilot Trial. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 44(4), 425–435. https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jsy092
Hemenover, S. H., & Bowman, N. D. (2018). Video games, emotion, and emotion regulation: expanding the scope. Annals of the International Communication Association, 42(2), 125–143. https://doi.org/10.1080/23808985.2018.1442239
Montana, J. I., Matamala-gomez, M., Maisto, M., Mavrodiev, P. A., Cavalera, C. M., Diana, B., Mantovani, F., & Realdon, O. (2020). The benefits of emotion regulation interventions in virtual reality for the improvement of wellbeing in adults and older adults: A systematic review. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(2). https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9020500
Pallavicini, F., Ferrari, A., & Mantovani, F. (2018). Video games for well-being: A systematic review on the application of computer games for cognitive and emotional training in the adult population. In Frontiers in Psychology (Vol. 9, Issue NOV). Frontiers Media S.A. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02127
Rodríguez, A., Rey, B., Clemente, M., Wrzesien, M., & Alcañiz, M. (2015). Assessing brain activations associated with emotional regulation during virtual reality mood induction procedures. Expert Systems with Applications, 42(3), 1699–1709. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eswa.2014.10.006
Russoniello, C., O’brien, K., Russoniello, C. v, & Parks, J. M. (2017). The effectiveness of casual video games in improving mood and decreasing stress. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/289131468
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