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IEEE Trans Vis Comput Graph. 2013 Apr;19(4):662-70. doi: 10.1109/TVCG.2013.35.

Leveraging virtual humans to effectively prepare learners for stressful interpersonal experiences.

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  • 1University of Florida, Florida, USA.


Stressful interpersonal experiences can be difficult to prepare for. Virtual humans may be leveraged to allow learners to safely gain exposure to stressful interpersonal experiences. In this paper we present a between-subjects study exploring how the presence of a virtual human affected learners while practicing a stressful interpersonal experience. Twenty-six fourth-year medical students practiced performing a prostate exam on a prostate exam simulator. Participants in the experimental condition examined a simulator augmented with a virtual human. Other participants examined a standard unaugmented simulator. Participants reactions were assessed using self-reported, behavioral, and physiological metrics. Participants who examined the virtual human experienced significantly more stress, measured via skin conductance. Participants stress was correlated with previous experience performing real prostate exams; participants who had performed more real prostate exams were more likely to experience stress while examining the virtual human. Participants who examined the virtual human showed signs of greater engagement; non-stressed participants performed better prostate exams while stressed participants treated the virtual human more realistically. Results indicated that stress evoked by virtual humans is linked to similar previous real-world stressful experiences, implying that learners real-world experience must be taken into account when using virtual humans to prepare them for stressful interpersonal experiences.

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