Deciding to embark on a path of self-dedication may also involve work related to communication. This is a concept that has evolved a great deal over the years, allowing people to adapt to different situations; just consider, for example, the last two years in which the Covid emergency has led to a considerable reduction in personal relationships, in contact with friends and relatives, and on the other hand, has led to an exponential spread of smart working. We talk about communication as if it were easy and intuitive to understand what we are talking about, but in reality, it is a very complex process that involves many psychological and social functions that are themselves complex. There are different definitions of this process. Let us look at something specific about this, and then focus on the new frontiers proposed by today’s technologies. 

One of the most important scholars is Anolli, whose studies have attempted to identify the main characteristics of communication. According to him, communication is at the same time a social, cognitive, action-related, and participatory activity: “communication is an observable interactive exchange between two or more participants, endowed with mutual intentionality and a certain level of awareness” (Anolli, 2003). Within the communicative process, the interpretation of the message between the two interlocutors becomes important. This is referred to as intention-inaction (Ciceri, 2001), according to which the effectiveness of the interaction depends on the meaning derived from the mutual interpretation at an intentional level. After several types of research (Airenti, Bara and Colombetti 1993; Anolli, Ciceri and Riva 2002; Anolli and Mantovani 2011; Galimberti and Riva 2002) a univocal definition of the communicative process has been reached: “a process of co-construction of the meaning that takes place in the <<here and now>> of the conversation and that sees as co-actors the speaker and his interlocutors”. In recent years, a new area of study in psychology has developed, called new media psychology (or cyberpsychology), which is characterized by its multidisciplinary nature, since it combines knowledge from cognitive psychology, sociology, communication psychology, and ergonomics. The main objective of new media psychology is “the study, understanding, prediction, and activation of change processes that have their main origin in interaction with new media”. The technology consists of mediums, means of communication that allow subjects to overcome the constraints of face-to-face interaction. We speak in particular of media and non-mediums, different and unstable tools whose contents are intertwined, which have enabled mankind since ancient times to overcome limitations, constraints. These tools have evolved, so much so that scholars have come to speak of new media. Therefore, returning to the process of interaction with these new media, we speak of communication mediated by new media, which we will refer to with the abbreviation of mediated communication, as those “forms of communication between two people through a technological tool, which performs a digital processing of information” (Riva, 2012). Anolli states that “each subject chooses whether or not to be a communicator, but he or she can choose whether and how to communicate” (Anolli, 2002). In this sense, the media represent mediating devices, facilitating the communication process through an indirect (mediated) perception of the other. How, then, can technology help us? Generally speaking, it has enabled us to maintain relations with family and friends, to continue certain work activities in a critical situation such as the one we have been experiencing for two years now. In the field of communication, I would like to focus on virtual reality; the first psychological approaches accompanied by virtual reality date back to the early 1990s, thanks to which we began to become aware of the enormous potential that this technology could offer in the field of psychology. It was noted that the use of virtual environments reproduced in a manner faithful to reality, allows the subject under treatment to live an experience clearer than would be possible through his imaginative capacity (Vincelli, Riva and Molinari, 1998). 

Virtual reality can be used, in fact, as an instrument of “shared” communication (Riva and Davide, 2001, Riva, Galimberti, and Mantovani, 1997): “virtual reality can be considered as a three-dimensional and interactive extension of traditional graphic chats”. In this sense, action has also been taken in the recreational field, through the creation of videogames for PCs, which allow a high level of interactivity to the user with the possibility of creating instant chats during use. Even in amusement parks around the world, interactive virtual reality platforms are gradually being introduced, allowing unique and highly engaging experiences to be conveyed. 

However, I would like to focus on a frequent phenomenon regarding communication: the fear of speaking in front of an audience. In the field of psychology, this type of problem is often encountered, characterized by a strong feeling of anxiety at the mere thought of having to give a speech in front of a group of people. This situation is a source of stress for many people and in some cases leads to high levels of stress, so much so that it leads to the development of psychological discomfort. Classical therapy generally involves gradual exposure to the stimulus (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), combined with social skill training and relaxation techniques. It is never easy for the person to go through such a process because the mere thought of having to be exposed in front of an audience can lead to a reaction of closure and rejection of the training. In this case, virtual reality can be of great help. In addition to its great potential about the possibility of living a highly engaging and interactive experience, it allows precisely to expose the individual to the source of stress in a controlled environment: yes, because one is confronted in front of a virtual audience, simulated, but at the same time very close to reality. Another advantage is the possibility of creating different situations and simulations to enhance the person’s ability to adapt; in fact, virtual reality also allows an assessment of the degree of use of the paralinguistic system, the so-called silent language (clothing, body gestures, facial expressions). Several studies have considered the effectiveness of virtual reality about fear of public speaking. For example, research protocols were carried out to study the prototypical behavior of a real audience to design a virtual training scenario for fear of public speaking in a so-called CAVE, a cube-shaped immersive virtual room (Sandra Poeschl, Nicola Doering, 2012). This technology is considered to be the future in applications of this kind and more, but it must be remembered that it needs to be managed optimally so that its potential is exploited to the full. It is important to remember that virtual reality is an important means of prevention and learning, which allows one to live an experience directly, to ‘immerse’ oneself in the concrete situation, virtually simulated. The content of this multisensory interface (involving sight, hearing but also movement) allows participants to live individualized and emotionally involving experiences, in a controlled context, learning from them and bringing them back to the real environment (transferability of learning). 

Vrainers is increasingly committed to going down this road. With the help of experts in graphics, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence, and the support of psychologists, very practical training was created, which accompanies people to work on themselves and then train their communication skills, with the ultimate aim of optimizing ‘the art of public speaking. The training gives people the chance to put themselves on the line and expose themselves to the stressful stimulus they face in different situations, but always in a controlled manner and under the guidance of a professional psychologist with whom they undertake a process of optimizing their resources and improving their quality of life and levels of psychological well-being. Therefore, it is not just a simple public speaking training, but it is a road that, if followed with adequate means and consistently and constantly, leads to personal growth.

Bibliography and Sitography

Anolli, L. (2002). Psicologia della comunicazione.Bologna: Il Mulino.

Morganti, F. & Riva, G. (2006) Conoscenza, comunicazione e tecnologia. Aspetti cognitivi della realtà virtuale. Milane: Edizioni Universitarie di lettere Economia e Diritto.

S. Poeschl and N. Doering, “Designing Virtual Audiences for Fear of Public Speaking Training – An Observation Study on Realistic Nonverbal Behavior,” in Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine 2012, B. K. Wiederhold and G. Riva, Eds, 2012.

B. K. Wiederhold and M. D. Wiederhold, “A review of virtual reality as a psychotherapeutic tool,” CyberPsychology & Behavior, vol. 1, pp. 45-52, 1998.

D. P. Pertaub, M. Slater, and C. Barker, “An experiment on fear of public speaking in virtual reality.,” Studies in health technology and informatics, vol. 81, pp. 372-8, 2001. 

S. Poeschl and N. Doering, “Virtual training for Fear of Public Speaking — Design of an audience for immersive virtual environments,” in Virtual Reality Short Papers and Posters (VRW), 2012 IEEE, 2012, pp. 101–102.

Riva G. (2012), Psicologia dei nuovi media, il Mulino, Bologna.

Amichai-Hamburger Y. (ed.) (2009) Technology and psychological well-being. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Villani, D.; Riva, F.; Riva, G. New Technologies for relaxation: The role of presence. Int. J. Stress Manag. 2007, 14, 260–274 


Francesco Palazzo

Degree in psychological sciences and techniques from the University of L’Aquila. Master’s degree in Psychology of Well-being: empowerment, rehabilitation, and positive technologies, at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan. Master’s degree in Sport Psychology. Specialized in the use of Positive Technologies applied to different psychological fields, conducting an experimental study on cognitive enhancement and technical-motor gestures on young competitive tennis players through an integrated training of mental training and virtual reality.



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