Human-Computer Interaction

Social Buffering of Fear in Virtual Reality

This call for a thesis or project is open for the following modules:
If you are interested, please get in touch with the primary contact person listed below.


Many people worldwide suffer from anxiety disorders. The disorder is prevalent in two percent of the adult population in the EU and accounts for ten percent of mental disorders in primary care (1). It is usually treated with exposure therapy (2). In recent years, virtual reality exposure therapy has become more common and is at least as efficient as in vivo therapy (3) while being more flexible and cheaper. One phenomenon that can be used to enhance exposure therapy further is to buffer fear responses with social support. Recently, Qi et al. (4) have shown that even the mere presence of a stranger can reduce physiological responses to aversive sound cues. A follow-up study by Qi et al. (5) showed that this response also occurs in virtual reality with the mere presence of virtual agents. These findings yield high potential to evolve virtual exposure therapy with virtual agents for improved therapy outcomes.

This project or thesis is concerned with investigating the social buffering effect with virtual agents and is done in cooperation with the Translational Social Neuroscience Unit of the University Hospital Würzburg. Theses and projects will have to expand the existing Unreal prototype by adding different virtual agents, changing the virtual environment, or porting the prototype to Unity. A study will be conducted to measure the effects of different agents on social buffering.


This project will focus on the following tasks:



Contact Persons at the University Würzburg

Philipp Krop (Primary Contact Person)
Human-Computer Interaction Group, University of Würzburg

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