Stress and Anxiety
Between 5-25% of children under 12 show clinically significant anxiety symptoms (Cartwright-Hatton, McNicol, & Doubleday, 2006) and 20% of US children report high daily stress and/or worrying (APA Stress in America Findings, 2010). For older children these numbers only go up, with 30% of US teens reporting they feel tired, sad and/or overwhelmed due to high daily stress (APA Stress in America, 2014).
It has previously been shown that people with a large social support network have better physical and mental health prospects, therefore leading longer, happier and healthier lives (Kawachi & Berkman, 2001; Schwarzer & Leppin, 1991). According to the Stress Buffering hypothesis, the beneficial effects of social support on health are a result of the reduction in psychobiological activation in response to stressors (Cohen & Wills, 1985). It has also been shown that the supportive presence of others during stressful tasks will lower stress reactivity (Uchino & Garvey, 1997).
In theory, increasing the feeling of social support in individuals should therefore help them deal with stress more effectively and improve mental health.
With the popularity of video games and the advent of virtual reality, we hope to be able to create experiences in online virtual worlds and video games in order to lower stress reactivity and potentially impact daily stress and anxiety.
As part of this project, we have developed ScrollQuest 2.0, a cooperative video game that has been designed around specific moments of social rejection as a way of inducing stress in the player. ScrollQuest 2.0 has been designed to measure different stress coping styles in those who play it, as it allows for subtle differences in play styles and social interaction strategies, such as aggression, tend & befriend, and withdrawal.
The aim of this project is to see whether virtual social support within the game can lower stress reactivity in a similar way as physical social support can, and whether we can shift people's stress coping behaviour from maladaptive to more adaptive styles through these online social support experiences.