This summer, the first official findings on DiSCoVR were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research: Mental Health. This article is about the pilot study on DiSCoVR, which was conducted between January and August of 2017. The main purpose of the pilot study was to investigate whether DiSCoVR in its current form was acceptable and feasible, for both therapists and clients.
A total of 22 participants, who had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder and experienced problems in social cognition, took part in the study. In addition, 6 therapists provided feedback on the treatment. The participants were patients at the University Medical Center Groningen, GGZ Drenthe and GGZ Delfland.
The participants all received DiSCoVR; so there was no control group. DiSCoVR consisted of sixteen sessions in which social situations were practiced to train social cognition. Before and after the treatment, a test battery was administered to test, among other things, emotion recognition, theory of mind, psychiatric symptoms and neurocognition. The feasibility and acceptance of DiSCoVR were investigated with a questionnaire and interview. The therapists also completed a questionnaire.
17 of the 22 participants completed the study and treatment. Participants liked DISCoVR (mean = 7.25 out of 10), found it useful for daily social activities (mean = 7.00 of 10), and liked the combination of VR and a therapist (mean = 7.85 of 10). Participants most commonly cited as a strength of DiSCoVR that they could practice with personalized social situations (14 of 20 participants who took part in the questionnaire; 70%). Therapists also mentioned this as the most important strength of DiSCoVR. Technical problems were most often mentioned as a point of concern, both by therapists and by participants. Furthermore, a significant improvement in emotion recognition was observed in participants, measured with a photo task (effect size: d = . 67, a moderate to large effect). However, no improvement was found on the other tasks and questionnaires.
Based on this study, it was therefore concluded that DiSCoVR is feasible and accepted by participants and therapists. It also appears to have the potential to improve social cognition. However, further research is needed; since 2018, we have been conducting a randomized, controlled trial to investigate the effect of DiSCoVR. The results are expected in the fall of 2021.