VR helps autistic young adults with social skills, study finds

Could virtual reality help you prep for the real world? Maybe, says research.


A study published by the University of Texas suggested that virtual reality may help autistic young adults practice and improve their social skills. Researchers at the Dallas campus of the University of Texas developed a virtual reality social training program. These young adults often struggle with navigating certain aspects of the adult world like job interviews, dating, and networking, so the researchers hoped that the program would help users improve their social skills by simulating a social environment.


Eight young adults were invited to participate in the program (ten sessions over five weeks), and their social skills were assessed both before and after the virtual reality experience. The researchers found that the participants’ social skills did improve after completing the program, particularly in facial emotion recognition and theory of mind (the ability to theorize about another’s thoughts and feelings).


While this study has obvious limits (small and homogeneous sample, no control group, etc.), the concept helps us imagine what role virtual reality technology may play in our day to day lives in the future. Far beyond mindless entertainment, VR may help our children and grandchildren practice for job interviews, shoot free throws, and overcome stage fright. While virtual reality is often depicted in science fiction as an escape from the real world, it could also be a way for humans of all ages to prepare to face the real world.


Technology is a tool. With caution and self-discipline, the technology of the present and future can enhance lives and open possibilities. Even as we guard our families, let us not forget to wonder at all the good that is possible.


To read the full study, click here!


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