Hoarding Research: Using Virtual Reality

By David Bain

Virtual reality? What is it? Is this some new sci-fi idea? Yes, in a way it is a bit sci-fi but its history and application is actually quite grounded in reality.

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated scenario that simulates a realistic experience. The immersive environment can be similar to the real world in order to create a lifelike experience grounded in reality or sci-fi.

Stereoscopic photography, a process by which two almost identical photographs are merged together by a viewer to create a 3D image was immensely popular in the Victorian Era. The View Master you played with as a child is a direct descendent of that phenomenon. You see the scene in three dimensions.

aroomwith aview

Did you ever own a View Master? Do you remember how the viewer merged two two-dimensional slides for each eye into a single object of three dimensions? This is an early concept that evolved into virtual reality over the years.

David Em created a navigable virtual world the first VR fine art - in the 1970s.

Virtual reality has been used by the military since the 1980s. Flight simulators used by the Air Force are perhaps the best know but the Navy, in a VR parachute-training simulator, also used the technology.

NASA has used VR technology for twenty years. They used immersive VR to train astronauts still on Earth, exposing them to zero gravity work-environments and training on how to spacewalk.

Jaron Lanier coined the term “virtual reality” in 1987. The research area now had a name.

The technology has been used in engineering to view a virtual bridge, building or other structure from any angle. It was also used to create virtual prototypes prior to the availability of any physical prototypes.

VR simulates real workplaces for occupational safety and health purposes. In addition, it is used to train surgeons before ever entering an actual operating room. Clearly, this is not a new technology. It continues to evolve and you may even have your own virtual reality gaming system.

Hipster man in checked shirt wearing virtual reality goggles, reaching out. Studio shot on black background

In this session, we are exposed to the application of VR in the study of hoarding disorder. Hanna McCabe-Bennett at the Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario Canada, completed this study. Hanna is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Ryerson.


Hanna’s team developed three virtual environments to test their hypotheses in environments that closely mimic experiences in the daily lives of individuals with hoarding problems. The first study examines perceived and actual information processing deficits using a VR home organization and memory task. The second examines the role of emotions in hoarding

symptoms using a VR shopping trip. Using a VR living room that becomes progressively more cluttered, the third study explored the question of whether there are differences in preferences and stress reactivity to increasing levels of clutter experienced for the first time. The talk will conclude with clinical implications and possible applications of VR in hoarding treatment, as well as future direction for this line of research.

We are excited to provide this opportunity to learn about this innovative use of virtual reality in the study of hoarding disorder. For more information about the study, view Hanna’s demonstration of the study on YouTube.

#JoinUs March 22-23, 2018

18th Annual Conference on Hoarding & Cluttering

Think Outside the Boxes: Innovation in Action


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