Virtual reality for social skills training

  • Marco Gillies
  • Xueni ’Sylvia Pan’
Goldsmiths, University of London

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Goldsmiths, University of London
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Professional work involves a high degree of technical knowledge that must be acquired through years of study at school and university. However, it also involves other, more implicit, skills that cannot be easily learned from books or lectures. An important example is social skills, interacting with other people in potentially challenging professional situations. These social skills can only be learned through practice in realistic situations. However, real situations do not support the kind of deliberate practice required for improving skills. This paper proposes that Virtual Reality can provide a method of practising social skills that potentially allows deliberate practice in a safe setting. It reviews a range of studies by Slater and colleagues starting from the late 1990s that demonstrate the ability of Virtual Reality to reproduce the experience of social interaction. These studies show that people respond realistically to virtual humans, opening up the possibility of using them as a means of practicing social interactions. Two experiments in particular show this potential for medical training, involving general practitioners practising difficult consultations with patients. The paper concludes with suggestions for what is required to enable deliberate practice of social skills in Virtual Reality.

Keywords: Virtual Reality; Virtual Humans; Social Skills; Learning; Deliberate Practice


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