Deutsch: Simulation / Español: Simulación / Português: Simulação / Français: Simulation / Italian: Simulazione

Simulation in psychology is a process where an individual imitates, models, or replicates a behaviour, emotion, or situation. This can occur consciously or unconsciously and serves various purposes, such as understanding others' emotions, practicing responses, or exploring hypothetical scenarios.


In the context of psychology, simulation plays a critical role in both research and practical applications. Psychologists use simulations to study and predict human behaviour in controlled environments. These simulations can range from computer-generated models to role-playing exercises. One of the most significant applications is in understanding and treating mental health conditions. By simulating specific scenarios, therapists can help patients confront and manage their fears or anxieties in a safe, controlled setting.

Historically, simulation has roots in the work of early psychologists who used role-playing and behavioural experiments to explore complex psychological concepts. Today, advanced technology enables the creation of virtual environments where individuals can engage in simulations that mimic real-life situations. This is particularly useful in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), where patients can practice coping strategies for anxiety-inducing scenarios without real-world consequences.

Legally, the use of simulation in therapy and research must adhere to ethical standards to ensure the well-being of participants. Informed consent, confidentiality, and the right to withdraw from the simulation at any time are critical components of ethical practice.

Application Areas

Simulation in psychology is utilized in various fields, including:

  1. Therapy and Counselling: Role-playing exercises to help patients manage mental health issues.
  2. Education and Training: Teaching students about psychological concepts through simulated scenarios.
  3. Research: Studying human behaviour under controlled, simulated conditions to predict real-world outcomes.
  4. Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT): Helping patients confront and manage anxiety and other mental health conditions.
  5. Social Psychology: Understanding group dynamics and individual behaviour in social contexts.

Well-Known Examples

  1. Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET): Used to treat phobias by exposing patients to their fears in a controlled virtual environment.
  2. Stanford Prison Experiment: A famous simulation study on the psychological effects of perceived power and authority.
  3. Role-Playing in Therapy: Clients act out scenarios to develop better coping mechanisms and interpersonal skills.
  4. Milgram Experiment: A simulation of obedience to authority, exploring how individuals respond to instructions that conflict with their personal conscience.

Treatment and Risks

While simulation can be a powerful tool in psychology, it also comes with potential risks and challenges. Simulations must be carefully designed to avoid causing undue stress or harm to participants. Ethical considerations are paramount, as simulations that replicate traumatic or high-stress situations can lead to negative psychological effects if not managed properly.

In therapy, there is a risk that patients may become overly reliant on simulations and struggle to transfer learned skills to real-world scenarios. Additionally, simulations must be grounded in real-life accuracy to be effective, and poorly designed simulations can lead to misleading or unhelpful results.

Symptoms, Therapy, and Healing


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)


  • Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT): Uses simulation to expose patients to anxiety-inducing situations in a controlled manner.
  • Virtual Reality Therapy: Engages patients in immersive environments to confront and manage fears.
  • Role-Playing: Allows patients to practice responses to difficult situations.


  • Exposure and Desensitization: Gradual exposure to fears can help reduce their impact over time.
  • Skill Development: Practicing coping strategies in simulations can enhance real-world effectiveness.
  • Emotional Regulation: Learning to manage emotions in simulated scenarios aids in better real-life control.

Similar Terms

  • Role-Playing: Acting out scenarios to practice responses and understand behaviours.
  • Virtual Reality (VR): Using immersive technology to create simulated environments.
  • Behavioural Experiment: Testing hypotheses about behaviour in controlled settings.
  • Cognitive Rehearsal: Mentally practicing a scenario to prepare for real-life events.

Articles with 'Simulation' in the title

  • Computer simulation: Computer simulation refer to attempts to develop computer systems capable of mimicking the intelligent functioning of humans which include errors and biases
  • Mental simulations: Mental simulations are defined as imitative cognitive constructions of an event or series of events based on a causal sequence of successive interdependent actions



Simulation in psychology involves the imitation or modelling of behaviours and scenarios to understand, predict, and manage human behaviour. It has wide-ranging applications in therapy, education, and research, providing valuable insights and practical tools for mental health treatment. However, ethical considerations and potential risks must be carefully managed to ensure the well-being of participants.