Combat environments by their nature can produce a dramatic range of emotional responses in military personnel. When immersed in the emotional “fog of war”, the potential exists for optimal human decision-making and performance of goal-directed activities to be seriously compromised. This may be especially true when combat training is conducted under conditions that lack emotional engagement by the soldier. Real world military training often naturally includes stress induction that aims to promote a similarity of internal emotional stimulus cues with what is expected to be present on the battlefield. This approach to facilitating optimal training effectiveness is supported by a long history of learning theory research. Current Virtual Reality military training approaches are noteworthy in their emphasis on creating hi-fidelity graphic and audio realism with the aim to foster better transfer of training. However, less emphasis is typically placed on the creation of emotionally evocative virtual training scenarios that can induce emotional stress in a manner similar to what is typically experienced under real world training conditions. As well, emotional issues in the post-combat aftermath need to be addressed, as can be seen in the devastating emotional difficulties that occur in some military personnel following combat. This is evidenced by the number of recent medical reports that suggest the incidence of “Vietnam-levels” of combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptomatology in returning military personnel from the Iraq conflict. In view of these issues, the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) has initiated a research program to study emotional issues that are relevant to VR military applications. This paper will present the rationale and status of two ongoing VR research programs at the ICT that address sharply contrasting ends of the emotional spectrum relevant to the military: 1. The Sensory Environments Evaluation (SEE) Project is examining basic factors that underlie emotion as it occurs within VR training environments and how this could impact transfer of training, and 2. The Full Spectrum Warrior (FSW) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Project which is currently in the process of converting the existing FSW combat tactical simulation training scenario (and X-Box game) into a VR treatment system for the conduct of graduated exposure therapy in Iraq war military personnel with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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