The paper discusses the use of immersive virtual reality systems for the cognitive rehabilita- tion of dysexecutive syndrome, usually caused by prefrontal brain injuries. With respect to classical P&P and flat-screen computer rehabilitative tools, IVR systems might prove capable of evoking a more intense and compelling sense of presence, thanks to the highly naturalistic subject-environment interaction allowed. Within a constructivist framework applied to holis- tic rehabilitation, we suggest that this difference might enhance the ecological validity of cog- nitive training, partly overcoming the implicit limits of a lab setting, which seem to affect non-immersive procedures especially when applied to dysexecutive symptoms. We tested presence in a pilot study applied to a new VR-based rehabilitation tool for executive func- tions, V-Store; it allows patients to explore a virtual environment where they solve six series of tasks, ordered for complexity and designed to stimulate executive functions, programming, categorical abstraction, short-term memory and attention. We compared sense of presence ex- perienced by unskilled normal subjects, randomly assigned to immersive or non-immersive (flat screen) sessions of V-Store, through four different indexes: self-report questionnaire, psy- chophysiological (GSR, skin conductance), neuropsychological (incidental recall memory test related to auditory information coming from the “real” environment) and count of breaks in presence (BIPs). Preliminary results show in the immersive group a significantly higher GSR response during tasks; neuropsychological data (fewer recalled elements from “reality”) and less BIPs only show a congruent but yet non-significant advantage for the immersive condi- tion; no differences were evident from the self-report questionnaire. A larger experimental group is currently under examination to evaluate significance of these data, which also might prove interesting with respect to the question of objective-subjective measures of presence.
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