The effectiveness of a virtual reality attention task to predict depression and anxiety in comparison with current clinical measures

Alexandra Voinescu, Karin Petrini, Danae Stanton Fraser, Radu-Adrian Lazarovicz, Ion Papava, Liviu Andrei Fodor, Daniel David

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Previous studies have revealed that attention and inhibition are impaired in individuals with elevated symptoms of depression and anxiety. Virtual reality (VR)-based neuropsychological assessment may be a valid instrument for assessing attention and inhibition given its higher ecological validity when compared to classical tests. However, it is still unclear as to whether a VR assessment can predict depression and anxiety with the same or higher level of effectiveness and adherence as classical neuropsychological measures. The current study examined the effectiveness of a new VR test, Nesplora Aquarium, by testing participants with low (N = 41) and elevated (N = 41) symptoms of depression and anxiety. Participants completed a continuous performance test where they had to respond to stimuli (species of fish) in a virtual aquarium, as well as paper-and-pencil and computerised tests. Participants’ performance in Nesplora Aquarium was positively associated with classic measures of attention and inhibition, and effectively predicted symptoms of depression and anxiety above and beyond traditional cognitive measures such as psychomotor speed and executive functioning, spatial working memory span. Hence, VR is a safe, enjoyable, effective and more ecological alternative for the assessment of attention and inhibition among individuals with elevated anxiety and depression symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-140
Number of pages22
JournalVirtual Reality
Issue number1
Early online date17 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are thankful to our collaborators at Nesplora—Neuroscience Support Systems, Spain, for designing, developing and programming the Nesplora Aquarium. We thank Dr. Irina Dulea for her valuable assistance with participants recruitment.

Funding Information:
The equipment used for the study (Nesplora Aquarium VR system) was funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 Program (Grant 733901, from Project VRMIND—Virtual Reality Based Evaluation of Mental Disorders). The funding source had no involvement in the research and preparation of the article.


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