Q & A with Dr. Wendy Hadley

Virtual Reality
Q & A with Dr. Wendy Hadley

Q: 2019-2020 was your first year here at the UO. What is your background? What drew you to the UO?

A: My background prior to the UO was in pediatric psychology. I worked as a clinician, training supervisor, and researcher as part of the Medical School at Brown University. I had known about the research happening at UO and the PSI for many years, specifically in the realms of family-based treatment and implementation of evidence-based treatment both locally and nationally. As a clinician and researcher, I value the role that research can play in improving clinical service delivery and the ways in which clinical service delivery can inform research pursuits. I was also very interested in the potential opportunities at the HEDCO clinic for serving the community and developing new research programs that could better inform practice.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about your role at the UO and what your interests are as a researcher?

A: I am the Julie and Keith Thomson Faculty Chair and HEDCO Clinic Director. I am also an Associate Professor within the College of Education within the Departments of Counseling Psychology and Prevention Science. My research interest primarily focuses on adolescents and health behaviors. I am interested in understanding the ways in which we can facilitate positive parenting practices and individual factors such as emotion regulation to promote well-being in both the short and long term. I think that adolescence is a particularly relevant time to intervene as the development and enhancement of positive relationships and individual factors have the potential to impact teens into adulthood. I am also interested in exploring the ways in which technology, such as virtual reality and web-based programs, can extend both the impact and reach of evidence-based interventions.  

Q: You are using technology in some really interesting ways. How do you see technology being used in the future for social science research?

A: Technology has the potential to facilitate broader dissemination of interventions to communities who don’t have the good fortune of being embedded in a University community. It also has the potential to enhance engagement in interventions and the development of skills targeted within interventions. Virtual reality, in particular, provides us with a tool for adolescents to practice skills in real-world settings while minimizing actual risk. In terms of developing emotion regulation skills, virtual reality worlds provide teens with an avenue to experience emotions, identify these emotions, and practice managing these emotions with cues that they would likely encounter and may not be able to replicate in the standard laboratory or clinical settings (such as those involving substance use or sexual risk). In my own study exploring whether using virtual reality to enhance emotion regulation skill building relative to standard role-plays, we found that we were not only able to retain more adolescents in the intervention study but also found that these adolescents felt more confident using emotion regulation skills and were better able to manage their feelings.  

Q: What ways are you pushing the boundaries and possibilities with technology in your research?

A: My team has been pushing these boundaries by increasing ones’ sense of immersion through immersive virtual reality to fully engage all of the senses. For example, we know that learning is often context-dependent and if we can replicate as many of the features of the environment as possible (sounds, smells, visuals, which are all related to an emotional experience and can be done in immersive VR) then we are likely able to enhance an individual’s ability to learn how to truly experience the associated emotions, regulate them, and enact the safe behavior.


Dr. Wendy Hadley
Julie and Keith Thomson Faculty Chair
HEDCO Clinic Director