Introduction: Mind-body medical approaches may ameliorate chronic disease. Stress reduction is particularly helpful, but face-to-face delivery systems cannot reach all those who might benefit. An online, 3-dimensional virtual world may be able to support the rich interpersonal interactions required of this approach. In this pilot study, we explore the feasibility of translating a face-to-face stress reduction program into an online virtual setting and estimate the effect size of the intervention.
Methods and findings: Domain experts in virtual world technology joined with mind body practitioners to translate an existing 8 week relaxation response-based resiliency program into an 8-week virtual world-based program in Second Life™ (SL). Twenty-four healthy volunteers with at least one month's experience in SL completed the program. Each subject filled out the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and the Symptom Checklist 90- Revised (SCL-90-R) before and after taking part. Participants took part in one of 3 groups of about 10 subjects. The participants found the program to be helpful and enjoyable. Many reported that the virtual environment was an excellent substitute for the preferred face-to-face approach. On quantitative measures, there was a general trend toward decreased perceived stress, (15.7 to 15.0), symptoms of depression, (57.6 to 57.0) and anxiety (56.8 to 54.8). There was a significant decrease of 2.8 points on the SCL-90-R Global Severity Index (p<0.05).
Conclusions: This pilot project showed that it is feasible to deliver a typical mind-body medical intervention through a virtual environment and that it is well received. Moreover, the small reduction in psychological distress suggests further research is warranted. Based on the data collected for this project, a randomized trial with less than 50 subjects would be appropriately powered if perceived stress is the primary outcome.