Virtual Reality Findings

As part of Children and Screens’ ongoing support and curation of cutting-edge, objective, scientifically-rigorous interdisciplinary research, we invited nearly 140 preeminent experts from 10 different disciplines in 22 workgroups to compile the latest research on the effects of media on growth and development, cognition and mental health in toddlers, children and adolescents.

The resulting findings were aggregated and published in a special supplement, “Children, Adolescents, and Screens: What We Know and What We Need to Learn”, in the highly-regarded journal Pediatrics, released on November 1, 2017.

Subsequent new research has also been synthesized and presented where applicable.

Research Summary

Pediatric interventions often aim at functional enhancements through reestablishing previously learned behavior patterns or establishing new patterns of activity. Recent advances in virtual reality technologies allow for controlled presentations of emotionally engaging background narratives to assess and train cognitive processing, affective experience, and social interactions. Virtual reality has the potential to be used as a tool to help teachers, therapists, neuropsychologists, and others make reliable interventions that can aid assessments and enhance learning for children, including those with disabilities. For example, virtual reality may be able to help children learn to control their anxiety in response to certain aversive stimuli. However, while virtual reality offers some purported advantages, the field faces several challenges: One is the need to establish the psychometric properties of virtual reality assessments and interventions. Furthermore, a consensus statement and guidelines are needed for ideal use of virtual environments with children and adolescents. It is the working group’s consensus that investigations into these future research endeavors have the potential to inform policy, theory, and practices. Specifically, the addition of virtual reality platforms to pediatric assessments and interventions offers an opportunity for advancing our understanding of the cognitive, affective, psychosocial, and neural aspects of children as they take part in real-world activities.


How mainstream is virtual reality (VR) technology really going to be?

Support for the use of virtual reality appears to be advancing rapidly. Facebook spent two billion dollars to acquire Oculus VR. In addition, Oculus VR has partnered with Samsung to develop the Gear VR device—a VR headset that uses the owner’s smartphone as its computer. Given the coupling of VR with smartphones, there is an increasing probability that this technology will bring VR to more children both informally (entertainment) and formally (education settings).

Will virtual reality really be about anything more than games?

In addition to non-gaming uses like virtual reality films, music entertainment, and sports, a variety of platforms have been developed for clinical assessment and intervention. Furthermore, VR is increasingly used for education and training.

Can the brains and bodies of children really cope with VR?

A great deal of research is being done to look at what impact VR may have upon us as humans. In addition to research into potential issues of motion sickness, there are groups exploring the ways in which VR might impact the way humans interact in society. However, to date, there is no significant indication (or evidence-base) that supports the view VR will have negative impacts on children.

Key Takeaways

  • The introduction of affordable head-mounted displays (e.g., HMDs like Oculus Rift; Samsung Gear VR; Google Cardboard) makes VR an increasingly popular entertainment and learning medium for a range of user-groups.
  • Virtual reality offers great potential for teaching, learning, assessment, and interventions.
  • Interdisciplinary research teams, including community stakeholders, are needed to ensure that end-users’ needs and priorities are more effectively met in research programs and projects.


Parsons, T.D., Riva, G., Parson, S., Mantovani, F., Newbutt, N., Lin, L., Venturini, E., & Hall, T. (2017). Virtual Reality in Pediatric PsychologyPediatrics, 140(140S2). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1758I

The analysis, conclusions, and recommendations contained in each paper are solely a product of the individual workgroup and are not the policy or opinions of, nor do they represent an endorsement by, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development.

Additional Information