For some children, going to school is a terrifying event as they are victimized and bullied during the course of a school day. New research shows that virtual reality games could help these children escape this demeaning environment.

In the study, published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Maria Sapouna and Professor Dieter Wolke from Warwick Medical School and the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick led a team of researchers to examine the effects of an anti-bullying virtual learning intervention called FearNot!

Children who took part in a three-week anti-bullying virtual learning intervention in schools in the UK and Germany showed a 26 percent decrease in victimization.

The team recruited 1,129 children aged between eight and nine from 27 primary schools across the UK and Germany. They split the children into intervention and control groups. The intervention group took part in three sessions, interacting individually with the FearNot! software.

Each session lasted around 30 minutes over a three-week period. The children were assessed on self-report measures of victimization before and after the intervention.

The software was a virtual school with 3D pupils who assumed the roles that children take when bullying occurs, either as the bully, victim or bystander. These characters were then used to improvise real-life bullying incidents and pupils could interact with the characters and suggest ways to cope with or resolve the situation.

Although the effect was only short-term, researchers suggest longer interventions could have a more sustained impact.

Professor Wolke said this was the first study to investigate the efficacy of a virtual learning intervention for victims of bullying.

He said: “We found that the FearNot! intervention significantly increased the probability of victims escaping victimization, especially among those children who interacted with the characters more and explored the advice. The effects we found were only short-term, but we believe a longer-term intervention integrated in the curriculum would be more beneficial.

“Our findings suggest for the intervention to be effective, they need to be of appropriate duration and include booster episodes over time. Virtual interventions could be most effective as part of a wider anti-bullying curriculum.”

Source: University of Warwick