Reducing Stress Through Virtual Social Support

Project Lead Category Project status
Babet Halberstadt Resilience Preparation

People with large social networks on average live longer, happier, less stressed lives. We can potentially leverage video games and virtual spaces to increase the experience of social support and impact daily stress and anxiety. Therefore, this project aims to show that virtual social support can lower stress, and potentially impact stress coping behaviours.

Project team


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).

Social support

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.

Video Games

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. 



Children under 12 with Anxiety


Children with high daily Stress


Teens feeling tired and sad due to daily Stress


All publications

Project team

Babet Halberstadt title=
Babet Halberstadt

PhD candidate with a background in neuroscience, now combining her love of gaming with her interest in the brain and human behaviour. Collector of useless skills, photographer, illustrator, and ukulele player.




E-mail Babet

Isabela Granic title=
Isabela Granic
Director of GEMH Lab

Professor and Chair of the Developmental Psychopathology department in the Behavioural Science Institute; writer; voracious podcast consumer; mother of two upstanding little gamers


Professor at McMaster's University


E-mail Isabela

Marieke van Rooij title=
Marieke van Rooij

Assistant prof. and data geek at the GEMH lab, dynamical modelling, personalisation, wants to put the I back into AI, news junkie, cat lover.


Assistant Professor


E-mail Marieke

Maaike Verhagen title=
Maaike Verhagen

Assistant Professor within the Developmental Psychopathology group of the Behavioural Science Institute


Assistant Professor


E-mail Maaike

Ken Koontz title=
Ken Koontz
Creative Director of GEMH Lab

Game designer, artist, producer, anime enthusiast and lover of games. I bring diversity, design experience and the NOISE!!!!


Founder of Koontz Interactive


E-mail Ken

Erik van den Berge title=
Erik van den Berge
Game Designer

Game developer, VR-guru, mocap artist, animator, video editor and all-round problem solver. Avid gamer, movie lover and dabbling photographer.


Technical Support Group Specialist


E-mail Erik


All sources
  1. American Psychological Association. (2010). Stress in America Findings. Stress in America Surveys (
  2. American Psychological Association. (2014). Stress in America: Are teens adopting adults’ stress habits. Stress in America Surveys (
  3. Cartwright-Hatton, S., McNicol, K., & Doubleday, E. (2006). Anxiety in a neglected population: Prevalence of anxiety disorders in pre-adolescent children. Clinical Psychology Review, 26(7), 817-833. doi:
  4. Kawachi, I., & Berkman, L. F. (2001). Social Ties and Mental Health. Journal of Urban Health, 78(3), 458-467.
  5. Piferi, R. L., & Lawler, K. A. (2006). Social support and ambulatory blood pressure: an examination of both receiving and giving. Int J Psychophysiol, 62(2), 328-336. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2006.06.002
  6. Schwarzer, R., & Leppin, A. (1991). Social Support and Health: A Theoretical and Empirical Overview. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 8(1), 99-127.
  7. Uchino, B. N., & Garvey, T. S. (1997). The Availability of Social Support Reduces Cardiovascular Reactivity to Acute Psychological Stress. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 20(1), 15-27.

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