neuro-bio-feedback training; virtual reality; stress responses; interpersonal skills training
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We spend many of our waking hours in social interactions. In fact, our social life is markedly increasing in both, intensity and complexity, due to the growing degree of globalization, social and geographical mobility, and digital communication. To navigate successfully in those social interactions and obtain the outcomes we aim for, we need interpersonal skills such as being able to convincingly communicate (e.g., persuasion) and understanding our social interaction partners and their views (e.g., empathy). Developing one’s interpersonal skills becomes thus crucial. Today, we have new technologies at our hands that enable us to train such skills in radically new ways. Immersive virtual reality (IVR) and the interaction with virtual humans is used to train to overcome anxiety and stress in social interactions. The here proposed research pushes this methodology even further in that we advocate and test the effect of training scenarios that are impossible or unlikely in the real world. A first goal of the proposed research is to test whether using impossible or unlikely virtual reality social situations for training can increase training success in interpersonal skills acquisition. The second goal of the proposed research is to identify individual stress-profiles in relation to trait and social anxiety during training and to, then, use them to personalize interpersonal skills training via neuro-bio-feedback training.In the first phase of the project (Studies 1 to 3), we will investigate, in an experimental approach, the effect of impossible or unlikely interpersonal skills training scenarios in IVR and gather behavioral and neuro-physiological information. We will test whether adding fear of heights or reducing stress by providing a relaxing environment during training will help develop effective stress management which will then translate into better subsequent public speaking performance (reduced stress and increased persuasion, Study 1). In a second study on public speaking and persuasion, we will use a doppelganger (virtual human that looks like the participant but behaves independently of him/her) as a role model. We will test whether it will reduce stress during training and accelerate skill acquisition via identification with the role model and increase in self-efficacy (Study 2). With respect to empathy, we will turn the doppelganger into the interaction partner and test whether training to deliver bad news to the doppelganger (e.g., fire oneself - one’s doppelganger) increases empathy when delivering bad news to another person (Study 3). In the second phase of the project (Studies 4a and b), those participants who showed lower performance levels during phase 1, will be invited to participate in a follow-up, personalized training. To this end, we will develop a neuro-bio-feedback training (NBFT) approach based on individualized stress classifiers obtained for each individual. These will be used to provide feedback training to self-regulate participants’ stress level in real-time during skill acquisition in IVR.This project will greatly extend existing training models and contribute to theory building in organizational behavior, social, and work and organizational psychology. Moreover, it will develop a novel understanding of the physiological and neurophysiological underpinnings of stress and identify physiological and/or neurophysiological biomarkers of boundaries and permissiveness states to achieve more skillful social interactions. Importantly, the project will develop personalized neuro-bio-feedback training approaches to improve interpersonal skill acquisition in IVR. This research involves an interdisciplinary approach because it brings together competencies in the study of verbal and nonverbal behavior in social interactions studied in IVR environments by the first applicant, and expertise in stress and cognitive, neurophysiological and endocrinological functioning by the second applicant.