Using virtual reality to optimize assessment of sociomoral skills

Abstract

Sociocognitive evaluation is an important component of comprehensive neuropsychological assessment. However, concerns have been raised as to whether traditional assessment methods such as paper-and-pencil questionnaire adequately represent real-life abilities. Virtual reality (VR) has the potential to increase ecological value by providing experimental conditions that are similar to those in a real-world environment. This project aimed to explore the potential benefits of using VR in the assessment of adolescent sociocognitive skills, specifically with regard to sociomoral decision-making and reasoning. A computer-based version and a VR version of the So-Moral task were used to compare the performance of adolescents aged 12–25 (n = 30) on sociomoral skills. In both versions, participants were presented with everyday sociomoral dilemmas and were asked to explain how they would react (sociomoral decision-making) and why (sociomoral maturity). The Interpersonal Reactivity Index and the Immersive Tendencies Questionnaire were completed to investigate the association between sociomoral skills, empathy and sense of presence. In both versions of the task, participants provided similar levels of sociomoral decision-making ( F(1,26)=2.05, p = 0.16) and maturity (F(1,26)=1.92 , p = 0.18). Empathy was associated with presence (r = 0.39, p = 0.048) and with sociomoral maturity (r = 0.46, p = 0.01) only when assessed in VR, explaining a significant 21% of the variability in outcome. Together, these results support the notion of a disparity between static and dynamic sociocognitive assessment tools and suggest that the association between sociocognitive skills and underlying social or affective substrates may be susceptible to stimuli saliency and presentation.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a master’s scholarship to FM from the Fond de Recherche du Québec—Nature et technologies (Grant number RGPIN-2018-04542). The funding body was not involved in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of data, nor in the writing of the manuscript and the decision to submit the article for publication.

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Morasse, F., Vera-Estay, E. & Beauchamp, M.H. Using virtual reality to optimize assessment of sociomoral skills. Virtual Reality 25, 123–132 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10055-020-00443-9

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Keywords

  • Social cognition
  • Virtual reality
  • Assessment
  • Empathy
  • Adolescents