Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BACKGROUND: Virtual reality (VR) is increasingly used to study and treat psychiatric disorders. Its fidelity depends in part on the extent to which the VR environment provides a convincing simulation, for example whether a putatively stressful VR situation actually produces a stress response. METHODS: We studied the stress response in 28 healthy men exposed either to a stressor VR elevator (which simulated travelling up the outside of a tall building and culminated in the participant being asked to step off the elevator platform), or to a control elevator. We measured psychological and physiological (salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase, blood pressure, pulse, skin conductance) stress indices. We also measured subsequent performance on the N-back task because acute stress has been reported to impact on working memory. RESULTS: Compared to participants in the control elevator, those in the external elevator had increases in skin conductance, pulse and subjective stress and anxiety ratings, altered heart rate variability, and a delayed rise in cortisol. N-back performance was unaffected. CONCLUSIONS: A putatively stressful VR elevator produces a physiological as well as a psychological stress response, supporting its use in the investigation and treatment of stress-related disorders, and its potential value as an experimental laboratory stressor.

Original publication




Journal article


J Psychopharmacol

Publication Date



Virtual reality, cortisol, stress