How A UC Davis Professor Leverages Second Life For Research

Professor Peter Yellowlees of UC Davis

Professor Peter Yellowlees of UC Davis

Dr. Peter Yellowlees, professor of psychiatry at UC Davis, has done some innovative work using Second Life to help educate people on schizophrenia.  I referenced Professor Yellowlees in an earlier blog posting about virtual worlds technologies that benefit the real world.  I contacted Peter to get some more information about his research and his thoughts on virtual worlds, Web 2.0 and the future.

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself? I am a professor of psychiatry at UC Davis in Sacramento California, and I also run the UCD Health Informatics Graduate program, where we currently have over 40 graduate students enrolled in our masters and certificate programs. I trained in medicine in London, England, then spent 20 years in Australia, before being offered a position at UC 5 years ago. I am married to Barb and we have 4 grown children, and one “furry daughter” – a puppy called Lucy who  thinks she is human.
  2. Tell us how you are using technology (including virtual worlds) in your research? I use it to teach about the experience of schizophrenia. It is hard for students to imagine what it is like to hallucinate – to hear voices and see visions – and the capacity to have the avatar undergo those experiences is very helpful for the students and lets them understand about the lived experience of psychosis.
  3. When you heard of the concept of a virtual world, what was your first thought? I have been working with virtual reality for more than 10 years – I started with a CAVE (collaborative virtual environment) in Australia and developed software applications for that type of environment, and then moved “downscale” to the much cheaper more available internet environment when I came to the US.
  4. Besides Second Life, do you participate in other virtual worlds? Not currently, although I am constantly looking at other software systems, particularly the ones used by USC to model the Iraq war environment and treat PTSD.
  5. What’s missing in virtual worlds technologies that could benefit your research efforts? In SL the main missing element is the relative lack of realism of the environment – it is still rather cartoon-like and can’t compete for “reality” with the very expensive VR games that are now widely available. I would also like to see the avatars being able to change more easily on the fly, although the creation of avatar bots is great.
  6. What Web 2.0 services or social networks do you participate in? I blog regularly at and am also on facebook and twitter. I have recently published a couple of ebooks at ( one of them is free) and have my own website at that is set up to both support patients that I see in the real world, as well as to promote my book on internet healthcare – “your health in the information age” published by iUniverse and available through Amazon and most online and f2f bookstores
  7. Do you see benefits of social networks as they relate to your research interests? I am very interested in them and would really like your readers to comment on how they think that social networks could be used in healthcare – they clearly can be a support and information system for patients but I feel they should have more capacity than this and am looking at how they can be combined with mobile environments –  I carry both a blackberry and an iPhone for instance, and am interested in how they could be used for monitoring behavior and symptoms.
  8. What are related fields of science that could benefit from virtual worlds? Certainly the social sciences – also probably genetics, by allowing us to link with unknown family members better…and many others…
  9. What does the future hold? Read my book!!!! – go to – the last chapter is all about the future of healthcare on the internet – lots of fascinating areas, and I think visualization of large data sets is particularly important – in 3D in virtual worlds – allowing scientists to literally get inside their data – amazing possibilities.

7 Responses to How A UC Davis Professor Leverages Second Life For Research

  1. admin says:

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen this, but therapists are using SecondLife-like virtual tech for therapy. here’s the link:

    Great post.


  2. Dennis Shiao says:

    Thanks – I saw that article in Scientific American about the SECTER virtual world and its use with troubled teams. Looks like SECTER is based on Forterra’s OLIVE virtual world platform.

  3. Dr. Yellowlees in-world installation on schizophrenia was one of the first places I visited when I joined Second Life. It had a tremendous impact on me, especially because a friend’s brother suffers from it. Suddenly I had a much deeper understanding of what he was experiencing. A good use of Second Life’s capabilities.

  4. […] UPDATE: I published an interview with Professor Yellowlees regarding his use of Second Life. […]

  5. […] How A UC Davis Professor Leverages Second Life For Research (It’s All Virtual) […]

  6. Quora says:

    How will virtual worlds address real-world problems, today and in the future?…

    I don’t know that “virtual worlds” will directly address real world problems. However, I do believe that applications of “virtual worlds technology,” can accomplish many things. They can: 1. Eliminate geographical boundaries to connect students to…

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