Cognitive neuroscientists, clinicians and game developers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have created a game-based virtual learning platform to help young people on the autism spectrum, and others who face social cognitive challenges, reach their social goals and personal aspirations.
Virtual reality as real-world solution
Since 2008, researchers at the Center for BrainHealth have been investigating how game-based, virtual reality social cognition training can provide dynamic and realistic opportunities for social success in both children and adults. In each session, participants use avatars to practice social situations during an interactive coaching session. The training is designed to stimulate social-cognitive reasoning skills that can be transferred into real-world success. Charisma, formerly called Social Cognition Virtual Reality Training, is now available to youth and adults, regardless of diagnosis, through the Brain Performance Institute.
Why virtual reality?
- The virtual reality technology provides a safe, inviting and effective platform for improving social skills, cognition, and functioning for those who experience social challenges.
- Traditional role-play therapy is limited by a lack of realism, as the clinician’s appearance and location are fixed. Virtual reality allows for changeable identities and adaptable surroundings that help create limitless scenarios for practice.
Measuring social brain change
- Researchers are currently using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques to help identify biomarkers and social-cognitive systems of change associated with Charisma to further the understanding of how to maximize a person’s social potential.
- Participants who completed the Charisma training significantly improved the ability to recognize others’ emotions, ability to engage in conversation and ability to understand what others may be thinking or feeling.
Adult participants who completed the 10-hour social cognition training showed improvement in understanding the emotions and intentions of others as well as reporting the following social benefits in their everyday life, even at three months after the training:
- 71% reported improvement in starting a conversation
- 100% reported improvement in maintaining a conversation
- 86% reported improvement in understanding other points of view
- 86% reported improvement in establishing relationships
Pediatric participants who completed the 10-hour social cognition training also showed improvement in recognizing emotions, understanding the intentions of others and analogical reasoning.
The Center for BrainHealth’s research team is partnering with scientists at George Washington University and the Yale University’s Child Study Center to test the feasibility of providing the research-based training program to young adults across the country. This ongoing partnership seeks to help those on the autism spectrum achieve economic and social independence.