Can virtual reality ease anxiety of speaking in front of audiences?

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Virtual reality devices could become a new tool to help students who struggle with public speaking anxiety, according to a faculty-researcher in Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture.

“In science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, many employers are looking for people who can effectively communicate their ideas in a public setting and work in teams, but not necessarily someone who graduated with a 4.0 GPA,” said Amir Behzadan, Clark Construction Endowed Associate Professor, Department of Construction Science.

In a one-year study funded by the Engineering Information Foundation, Behzadan and principal investigator Theodora Chaspari, assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, College of Engineering, are studying whether students can reduce their level of public speaking anxiety by making presentations on general-interest topics to a variety of computer-generated audiences they see in a low-cost, VR headset.

“This study will examine how wearable devices and VR can be integrated to provide new, personalized opportunities to improve students’ public speaking effectiveness,” Chaspari said.

Student participants will speak to virtual audiences with varying demographic, characteristics, attention levels and venue sizes while a consumer-grade “smart” watch records physiological data, such as pulse, sweat level, and voice pitch and volume that are related to the speaker’s performance and anxiety level.

These readings will be compared with benchmark data recorded with the subject’s presentations to a live audience.

“When we compare the two readings, we’ll be able to see how much the VR presentations helped reduce a subject’s fear of public speaking and improve his or her speaking performance,” Behzadan said.

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