Director for Medical Virtual Reality
USC Davis School of Gerontology and USC Keck School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Psychologist Skip Rizzo conducts research on the design, development and evaluation of virtual reality (VR) systems targeting the areas of clinical assessment, treatment rehabilitation and resilience. This work spans the domains of psychological, cognitive and motor functioning in both healthy and clinical populations. Rizzo, whose work using virtual reality-based exposure therapy to treat PTSD received the American Psychological Association’s 2010 Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Treatment of Trauma, is the associate director for medical virtual reality at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. He also holds research professor appointments with the USC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and at the USC Davis School of Gerontology. Rizzo is working with a team that is creating artificially intelligent virtual patients that clinicians can use to practice skills required for challenging clinical interviews and diagnostic assessments. His cognitive work has addressed the use of VR applications to test and train attention, memory, visuospatial abilities and executive function. In the motor domain, he has developed VR game systems to address physical rehabilitation post stroke and traumatic brain injury and for prosthetic use training. He is currently designing VR scenarios to address social and vocational interaction in persons with autistic spectrum disorder. Rizzo is currently examining the use of VR applications for training emotional coping skills with the aim of preparing service members for the stresses of combat. He is senior editor of the MIT Press journal, Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. He also sits on a number of editorial boards for journals in the areas of cognition and computer technology (Cognitive Technology; Journal of Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds; Media Psychology) and is the creator of the Virtual Reality Mental Health Email Listserve (VRPSYCH).
With recent advances in Virtual Reality technology have led to the evolution of intelligent virtual humans. This has
been driven by seminal research and development in the creation of highly interactive, artificially intelligent and
natural language capable virtual human agents that can engage real human users in a credible fashion. Virtual
human representations, no longer at the level of a prop to add context or minimal faux interaction in a virtual
world, can be designed to perceive and act in a 3D virtual world, engage in face-to-face spoken dialogues with real
users (and other virtual humans) and in some cases, they are capable of exhibiting human-like emotional reactions.
This presentation will provide a brief rationale and overview of research that has shown the benefits derived from
the use of virtual humans in healthcare applications. Recent work using intelligent virtual human agents in the role
of virtual patients to train novice clinicians, as job interview/social skill trainers for persons with autism, and as
online healthcare support agents will be described, along with a look into the future of this next major movement
in Virtual Reality.