Investigating the Efficacy of Virtual Experiences on Stress Reduction; How Cultural Attitudes, Familial Dynamics, and Societal Expectations Affect Mental Health Outcomes and Resource Usage for Asian Americans

Xiao, Sophia, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Barnes, Laura, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia

This portfolio consists of two papers that pertain to mental health and care. The technical project explores how stress can be mitigated in an office setting through the use of virtual reality technology. On the other hand, the STS paper identifies and analyzes the unique experiences and factors Asian Americans have that affect how they manifest and react to poor mental health.

Due to rising costs of medical and pharmaceutical treatments, employers are seeking innovative ways to manage healthcare expenses for employees and their dependents. Studies show that 42% of employees report feeling stressed at work and are linked to 15-30% greater healthcare costs (Milenkovic, 2019). This capstone project explores the combination of Attention Restoration Theory and virtual reality (VR) technology as a novel therapy for short- and long-term stress reduction in the workplace. Study participants were guided through a nature or urban environment using the virtual reality program and booth provided by Even Health, or provided with a 2D experience of the same images through a laptop. The participants completed a 10-minute Cognitive Demand Battery that consisted of a Serial 3's subtraction task, a Serial 7's subtraction task, and a Rapid Visual Information Processing task in order to induce minor stress or fatigue prior to the VR and 2D experiences. Biometric data such as heart rate, blood pressure, and galvanic skin response were collected from the participants at various points throughout study in order to measure the changes in stress levels before, during, and after both the “micro-vacation” experiences. The results were analyzed in Qualtrics and R by comparing the VR experience versus 2D experience and the two sub-conditions, participants viewing nature scenes and participants viewing urban scenes, to determine if the nature scenes in VR significantly reduce stress. Statistical tests were used to determine there was a statistically significant difference between the two conditions and corresponding sub-conditions. Based on the previous literature review, we hypothesize that both the conditions in the VR booth will reduce stress levels in participants to a greater degree than the 2D images, but that the extent will be greatest within the nature condition.

Asian Americans have unique cultural values and perspectives that shape how they experience mental illness. Currently, the American mental health system is not adapted to support their cultural needs, which leads to underutilization of mental health resources among Asian Americans. This underutilization is part of a negative feedback loop as it can contribute to even fewer culturally appropriate resources for Asian American since funding is partially dependent on demand and usage. Underutilization can be attributed to a number of factors, such as cultural upbringing, familial dynamics, and societal expectations. It is important to consider the effects of model minority myth and cultural practice of prioritization of family over the individual when evaluating mental health of Asian Americans. The STS frameworks of technological momentum and coproduction is used identify and analyze these factors in order to create a mental health infrastructure that is culturally relevant and effective. The analysis is conducted through literature review of historical cases and examination of clinical studies. Recommendations for increased resource usage for Asian Americans include destigmatizing mental illness through community interventions and education, culturally sensitive training for mental health professionals, incorporating Asian American perspectives when establishing clinical best practices, and increasing awareness about current available resources.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Technological Momentum, Mental Health, Coproduction, Virtual Reality, Asian American

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Systems and Information Engineering
Technical Advisor: Laura Barnes
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Bailey Biber, Max Dodge, Melanie Gonzalez, Raymond Huang, Liv Johnson, Zach Martin, Amanda Sieger, Vy Lan Tran

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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