Social cognition training

People with a psychiatric disorder, such as psychosis or autism, commonly experience problems in social contact. These are often caused by deficits in social cognition, which refers to the cognitive processes that are involved in understanding social situations and other people. Research has shown that impairments in social cognition are an important predictor of problems in daily life, such as trouble in relationships and employment. DiSCoVR is an intervention that is aimed at improving social cognition. By understanding other people better, participants can become more comfortable and capable in social situations. Ultimately, the goal of DiSCoVR is for people to function better in daily life.

The underlying principle of DiSCoVR is that Virtual Reality (VR) is a safe, but also realistic way to practice with social contact. Participants can try out different ways to react to others without fear of rejection of embarrassment in an environment that highly resembles daily life, from the practitioner’s office. At the same time, the environment can be tailored to the participant, which is not possible in the ‘real world’. For example, the difficulty level of the intervention and the appearance of the people in it can be altered. The environment can also be made more or less crowded.

The training

DiSCoVR consists of sixteen sessions lasting 45-60 minutes. The main emphasis is on practicing social situations in a virtual environment. The intervention is provided by a psychologist, who coaches and provides feedback. Together, the therapist and the participant choose social goals that the participant wishes to work on during the intervention. DiSCoVR has three modules:

  1. Recognizing facial emotions
  2.  Understanding social situations and the actions, thoughts and emotions of others
  3. Applying the above in social situations by practicing with interactions with virtual people


Starting in January of 2017, a pilot study was undertaken, investigating the acceptance and feasibility of DiSCoVR and exploring its effects on social cognition. The results of this pilot study are expected in early 2018. In January of 2018, we initiated a multicenter randomized controlled trial (RCT) on the efficacy of DiSCoVR, comparing it to VRelax. In the RCT, the UMCG and GGZ Drenthe collaborate with GGZ Delfland and Zeeuwse Gronden. We expect the first results of the RCT in late 2019.

Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
GGZ Drenthe