Doctorate in Clinical Psychology: Main Research Portfolio
: 1) Changes in PTSD prevalence and the moderating role of gender and age in the first two years following trauma: a meta-analytic study; 2) Investigating the experience of individuals with comorbid posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder attending a Seeking Safety group; 3) The impact of maternal attachment style on the efficacy of an immersive virtual reality environment for increasing parental empathy.

  • Jac Airdrie

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy)


Objective: A previous proof of concept study using Spanish mothers demonstrated that parental empathy, a factor implicated in risk of child maltreatment, could be increased using an Immersive Virtual Reality Environment (IVR) to embody mothers in a virtual child avatar and interact with a Positive and Negative virtual mother. However, this study did not consider whether parental attachment style, another factor implicated in maltreatment, affected the impact of the IVR on change in empathy. Further, in that study, another risk factor for maltreatment (oppressing power and independence) increased, which requires further investigation.
Method: Nineteen British mothers (M age = 35.5, range = 22 – 44) without parenting difficulties were exposed to the same IVR environment as described above but adapted to English.
Results: Mothers’ scores for empathy did not change from before to after the exposure and this did not relate to maternal attachment styles of anxiety or avoidance. There was a significant increase in indorsement of effective parenting styles and there was some evidence this was negatively related to insecure attachment. The previous finding of an increase in risk for oppressing power and independence was not replicated. Thematic Analysis of participants’ experience of the VR suggested it evoked congruent cognitive and emotional responses and led to perspective-taking. It also highlighted areas of development for the VR paradigm.
Conclusions: A previous finding of an increase in maternal empathy was not replicated. Importantly this may suggest the findings from the previous proof of concept study could be attributable to issues with the reliability and validity of the measure used. It is also possible the findings were specific to the sample used in that study. Due to the small sample size and poor internal consistency for measures of maltreatment risk in the current study, results should be interpreted with caution. An increase in self-reported effective parenting styles provides some evidence of the potential utility of IVR in reducing child maltreatment.

Date of Award8 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorCatherine Hamilton-Giachritsis (Supervisor), Emma Griffith (Supervisor), Rachel Hiller (Supervisor), Sarah Halligan (Supervisor) & Alexandra Lievesley (Supervisor)

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