As a therapeutic endeavour, Dolphin Assisted Therapy (DAT) has its origins in the cognitive behavioural school of thought, with dolphins used as a reinforcer for appropriate behaviour (Nathanson, 1995). Improvements in behaviour of children with attentional deficits has also been reported (The Human Dolphin Institute, 1997). Since regularly interacting with live dolphins is generally regarded as impractical, attempting to reproduce the potentially therapeutic encounter has been suggested. In the present study, parents of 26 participants with an attentional deficit, (mean age: 10.8) and 21 controls (mean age: 7.3), completed the Conners' Parents' Rating Scale-93 (CRPS-93), one week before, and 48 hours after their child experienced a Virtual Reality Dolphin Encounter (VRDE). The duaration of the session was determined by the child. Expectations that behaviour displayed by the children after a VRDE would differ from behaviour displayed prior to the session, and that the difference in behaviour would be greater for children with an attention disorder, than for controls, were fulfilled. Age, gender, medication status and session duration did not influence the magnitude of improvement. Possible mechanisms, including the effects of novelty and parental and child expectations, as well as implications for potential therapeutic use of virtual reality and dolphin encounters are discussed.
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