This study evaluated a pseudo-randomized pilot trial of a VR enhanced bullying prevention program among middle school students (N = 118) in the Midwest United States. One school received an original VR-enhanced bully prevention program and the other continued business as usual during the measurement period. Regarding hypotheses, two path models were proposed: The first predicts reductions in bullying behavior (physical bullying, cyberbullying, relational aggression) at post-test, mediated by changes in empathy in the VR condition compared to the control. The second predicts increases in school belonging and willingness to intervene as an active bystander at post-test, mediated by changes in empathy in the VR condition compared to the control.
The VR condition yielded increased empathy from pre- to post-intervention compared to the control group. Though no direct behavioral effects were observed, through the mediating role of empathy, changes in the desirable directions were found for physical bullying, sense of school belonging and willingness to intervene as an active bystander. The same was not true for cyberbullying or relational aggression.
The scope and practical limitations of the VR trial prevented a larger scale and more rigorous evaluation; however, results justify further examination of VR as a youth violence prevention tool, especially compared to existing prevention efforts.