Published:  2021-03-01

Multi-modal responses to the Virtual Reality Trier Social Stress Test: A comparison with standard interpersonal and control conditions

Authors:  M. A. Fallon, M. M. E. Riem, L. E. Kunst, W. J. Kop, N. Kupper

Tags:  Cardiovascular responses, Heart rate variability, Psychosocial stress, Trier Social Stress Test, Virtual reality

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The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) is a reliable social-evaluative stressor. To overcome limitations of the in vivo TSST, a standardized virtual reality TSST (VR-TSST) was developed. The present study compares the emotional (anxiety) and physiological (heart period and variability) response to a VR-TSST with an in vivo TSST and a control condition. Participants took part in either an in vivo TSST (N = 106, 64% female), VR-TSST (N = 52, 100% female), or a control TSST (N = 20, 40% female). Mixed linear modeling examined response profile differences related to TSST type. While there was an equivalent anxiety response to the in vivo TSST as the VR-TSST, we found a smaller heart period and heart rate variability response in VR-TSST compared to the in vivo TSST, especially in response to the math part of the test. The present findings demonstrate that social evaluative stress can be successfully induced in a VR setting, producing similar emotional and slightly attenuated cardiovascular responses.