Too shy to ask? Date an avatar

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at

People who are afraid of dating in real life can practice on an avatar. At the Department for Clinical Psychology of the University of Amsterdam, people with social phobias can act as guinea pigs for a new virtual therapy – and at the same time, they can practise their dating skills.


It seems a bit unnatural and really complicated, practising all kinds of situations which patients might encounter in real life using an avatar – a virtual person. But other tests with virtual therapies in the past have helped; take the fear of flying, for example.

Having a social phobia is more than just being shy; patients can suffer so badly that they become recluses, and can no longer function in society. Delft Technical University and the University of Amsterdam have developed an anti-shyness programme, in which patients date an avatar who responds to their reactions.

There are two advantages. Firstly, you can practise in a safe and predictable environment. And secondly, the therapist can easily increase the difficulty of an encounter during the session. What’s more, it works: after around eight sessions the patient is ready to go back out into the real world.


© Radio Netherlands Worldwide