Anxiety Partially Mediates Cybersickness Symptoms in Immersive Virtual Reality Environments

Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2018 Mar;21(3):187-193. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2017.0082. Epub 2018 Jan 22.


The use of virtual reality (VR) in psychological treatment is expected to increase. Cybersickness (CS) is a negative side effect of VR exposure and is associated with treatment dropout. This study aimed to investigate the following: (a) if gender differences in CS can be replicated, (b) if differences in anxiety and CS symptoms between patients and controls can be replicated, and (c) whether the relationship between exposure to VR and CS symptoms is mediated by anxiety. A sample (N = 170) of participants with different levels of psychosis liability was exposed to VR environments. CS and anxiety were assessed with self-report measures before and after the VR experiment. This study replicated gender differences in CS symptoms, most of which were present before exposure to VR. It also replicated findings that a significant correlation between anxiety and CS can be found in healthy individuals, but not in patients. In a VR environment, anxiety partially mediated CS symptoms, specifically nausea and disorientation. A partial explanation for the differences found between patients and controls may lie in a ceiling effect for the symptoms of CS. A second explanation may be the partial overlap between CS symptoms and physiological anxiety responses. CS symptoms reported at baseline cannot be explained by exposure to VR, but are related to anxiety. Caution is required when interpreting studies on both CS and anxiety, until the specificity in measurements has been improved. Since anxiety mediated the CS symptoms, CS is expected to decline during treatment together with the reduction of anxiety.

Keywords: anxiety; cybersickness; psychosis; virtual reality.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy*