Augmented Reality to Ease Social Phobia

Social phobia (aka ‘social anxiety’) has been described by psychoanalysts as fear which stems from internal anxiety. It’s commonly exhibited during interactions in which the person inflicted is performing an act during which they may be scrutinized by others. Examples of this include public speaking, writing, and social interactions (e.g., parties, classes, jobs). Symptoms almost always include sweating, blushing and shaking. Psychoanalysts suggest that social phobia is the displacement of some implicit feeling of shortcoming that is the result of specific experiences. Participants suffering from social phobia report feelings of inadequacy, fear of rejection, submit to more strict social behavior standards, and fear that others will notice their anxieties. (Liebowitz, Gorman, Fyer, & Klein, 1984)

Though social interactions have been facilitated with increasing frequency online, dealing with social phobia must still be a priority for those suffering from it. Phobias can become debilitating and begin affecting the patient’s ability to perform everyday functions. Chayko (2008) notes that online interactions facilitate increased levels of trust and intimacy between people and within social groups due to the anonymity inherent in them. Gackenbach (2009) describes the disinhibition effects that occur as a function of virtual interactions. Essentially, when individuals feel a level of safety, they allow themselves more freedom of expression. Boundaries which are typically very rigid may become broader and less strictly adhered to by those communicating virtually.

Studies have found this to be true of users of social media such as Facebook (Orr et al, 2009). Social media not only allows individuals to develop relationships with those whom they know minimally in real life, but they allow for the continued participation in existing offline relationships. Additionally, studies have shown that individuals who tend to be more socially inept, find social interactions in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) more attainable and less fear inducing (Cole & Griffiths, 2007). MMORPGs allow players to commit to common goals, form groups which work together to procure resources, plan participant roles, identities, and allow all interactions to be kept at a safe, anonymous distance if need be.

However, no one media is sufficient to resolve social phobia. As with anything, convergence means taking advantage of every media’s strength and using the collective group of media simultaneously to reach a specific goal. In this case, while social media allows for disinhibition and more frequent socialization, as well as control over one’s immediate surroundings during use, it doesn’t allow the individual to learn to cope with offline interactions. Games, while they allow for teamwork and identity expression, don’t necessarily allow for the development of these skills in offline situations either. Media which allow for the optimization of benefits from both social media and gaming, with additional support for transferring those skills from online to offline situations, present a possible solution.

One such media is augmented reality (AR). By definition, AR is the layering of virtual content over actual, present, reality. It is meant to enhance existing ‘content’ by allowing access to more information than is innately available. Imagine an AR application which someone who was socially phobic could take into a work party; perhaps in the form of a contact lens. Say this application monitored groups (e.g., how many people were clumped together), conversations (e.g., what they were talking about), gathered information about social norms for the group and suggested courses of action for the individual (e.g., suggested conversation topics, which groups may be more amenable to additional participants, which foods may be least messy to eat, etc.). This application could be programed to work in a number of social situations such as public speaking, shopping, dining out, and travelling. Additional functions could include situations under which users could practice the application and set preferences according to their personal fears and responses. The application could also be made to monitor autonomic arousal responses (much like a heart rate monitor on a treadmill) and alter suggestions based on the somatic responses of the user.

Augmented reality applications, though not perfect by any means, presents an alternative to specifically online or offline situations by creating a combination of the two. Though psychoanalysts may take issue with AR as therapy for social phobia, if an individual is given more control over their surroundings in the form of AR, there is every possibility that it can act as a sort of placebo which eases somatic responses to the phobias. The more open minded we as consumers are to augmented reality the more avenues open for therapy alternatives and psychological research in general.

References

Chayko, M. (2008). Portable communities : the social dynamics of online and mobile connectedness. Albany: SUNY.

Cole, H., & Griffiths, M. (2007). Social interactions in massively multiplayer online role-playing gamers. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10(4), 575-583. doi: 10.1089/cpb.200739988

Gackenbach, J. (Ed.). (2007). Psychology and the internet : intrapersonal, interpersonal, and transpersonal implications. Amsterdam; Boston: Elsevier/Academic Press.

Liebowitz, M., Gorman, J., Fyer, A., & Klein, D. (1985). Social phobia: Review of a neglected anxiety disorder. Arch Psychology, 45, 729-736. Retrieved from: http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/

Orr, E. S., Sisic, M., Ross, C., Simmering, M. G., Arseneault, J. M., & Orr, R. R. (2009). The influence of shyness on the use of Facebook in an undergraduate sample. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(3), 337–340. doi:10.1089/cpb.2008.0214

Ginger Rage: Cyber Bullying

The Rant…

Today I remembered just how maddening being bullied can be. Being bullied doesn’t have to be physical violence or blatantly offensive names; anything that belittles, embarrasses, or purposefully hurts in any way counts. So when someone uses Facebook comments to try to turn friends against you, it counts. So here is my take on it: social media is, among other things, a way for people to communicate in a safe environment. There are those who are socially inhibited or inept who find some measure of relief through the disinhibition being behind the computer screen affords. There are those who play games as a means of escaping the havoc of their offline lives, and experiences brief respite. Creepers, trolls, flamers, and stalkers make any situation- media or not- unsafe and downright frightening. In my example (my day… it was no bueno), when I find out that someone is attempting to turn my best friend against me, by using words (that were NOT meant for her) against me, I become afraid to say anything; to express myself. What’s more, I can’t see what is being said, or how much I’m exposing myself when it’s done with cyber stalking. So, rather than hiding, like so many others, I’m doing something about it. I’m giving her all the fodder she needs. There is a level of maturity that comes with being responsible technology users. While having freedom of speech is a right, it is also a privilege. Just because we have it, doesn’t mean we should abuse it or use it to hurt others. Just because you THINK there are no consequences to your actions, doesn’t mean there aren’t; you never know when it’s going to come back to bite you in the ass. So many of our pop culture favorites speak to this: Spider-man, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” the force in Star Wars, Thor and the abuse of his power on Asgard before his daddy reamed him… the list goes on. Just cause you can, doesn’t mean you should.

What we can do, however, is speak out against it. In the links below, I’m including a small variety of media which give examples of cyber bullying (from sexual harassment in video games to in school bullying), point to resources for prevention, and some research on the subject. Remember when you’re reading these links, that I’m in no way saying I agree with any of the bullying, regardless of whether I agree with the values or opinions of those who are being attacked. Bottom line: attacking is attacking is attacking. NO ONE DESERVES IT! Also, this is, by no means, an exhaustive list so be sure to check for yourself for more info. I hate to think Darwin’s survival of the fittest is at work with bullies too… but sometimes it’s really hard to endure being the good guy; so let’s stand together.

The Solution…

Feminist Blogger Is a Victim of a Vicious Videogame Retaliation

Ill Doctrine: All These Sexist Gamer Dudes Are Some Shook Ones

Cyberbullying: What School Administrators (And Parents) Can Do

Don’t Stand By: Stand Up Campaign

Cyberbullying Research Center

Cyberbully Movie (by ABC Family)