Simulation stress and VR: a surprise for us all.

Recently, the MESH360 team undertook the second stage of the VR simulator research project. The aim was to investigate and understand Paramedic stress and if this is influenced by VR technology and/or practical simulation.

The first iteration of this project was back in 2018 when we provided an emergency ambulance response toward an injured patient. On this occasion, we monitored heart rate and interviewed the participants, asking for a working diagnosis based solely on the VR experience. In addition, we used a Galvanic skin response  (g.s.r.)  Impedance meter for sweat gland activity that measured parasympathetic /sympathetic response.

The 2019 version was slightly different in that the GSR equipment was unavailable. However, with a team that included PhD students, educational experts and intensive care paramedics, we set out to investigate a helicopter journey toward an injured patient. The VR journey was developed in several stages. The first stage we managed to gain access to Westpac, the emergency helicopter service here in Auckland. This gave us the first shot which included a walk toward the machine which was later developed to show take off and a flight toward the emergency scene. The next step was filmed by attaching a Samsung 360  camera to a drone and flying the device down a river toward my home. This was then pieced together with an interior shot of the helicopter to give the feel of flight and landing.

So with the team in place, we managed to recruit students of all qualifications and a wide level of experience. This included post-graduate students with over fifteen years of experience to first years students with less than one year experience.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of the research here as we hope to have the results published in the near future. What I really want to say is that there where some very interesting and surprising things that were noted. Being the second time that we have done this and having a higher standard of experience, we started to see some unexpected trends. The first of which was a stress management technique from the participants within the VR experience.  Box breathing is a technique used to reduce fight or flight and relax those about to engage in a stressful event. We noted the student would start to perform this mid-VR flight and increase the rate of breathing control as the helicopter was nearing the scene. In addition to the Box breathing, we noted changes in body language, with several participants showing fingernail picking and hand rubbing. Again, this related to the VR event and whilst not being an expert in this, looked to relate to anxiety and stress. Finally, without prompt, we had two students who replied to the questions being asked by the VR helicopter pilot. Again, totally unexpected and for me represents a level of engagement that the VR environment provided to the student.

Lessons learnt from this experiment are that with an increased quality VR environment comes a greater level of interactive engagement. We are still learning and still improving on this work, but it is very exciting to see that both the participants and those performing the experiment are still being surprised by the results.


Box breathing:

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