Very Realistic

If you like gaming, you probably heard about VR: Virtual Reality. This digital screen can be worn like goggles and responds to your movement. This will improve your ‘gaming experience’ in revolutionary ways.

If you’ve got the stomach for it though: I tried Minecraft in VR a couple months back and despite it being awesome, I made an embarrassment of myself by leaving the room half crying, soaked in sweat, with shaking hands. About an hour later, I still felt some remaining adrenaline.

What caused this reaction? Well, my character stood on a tree. It was not even that high: about 2/3 Minecraft blocks. Still, looking around made me very nervous and my acrophobia really got to me. Apparently the extremely realistic visuals of Minecraft were already enough to trigger that.

For many the VR experience is wonderful. Rather than experiencing the alternate universe through a screen, framed by your actual universe, this world is all around you and interactive. The fact that these virtual worlds can feel ‘real’ has a great advantage. Next to the fact that it’s fun, it can be very useful. Especially when you look at different phobias. By recreating situations that trigger phobic reactions, people can actively learn to deal with them.

When it comes to overcoming fear, exposure therapy has proven to be useful: ‘systematic and controlled therapeutic exposure to phobic stimuli may enhance emotional regulation through adjustments of inhibitory processes on the amygdala by the medial prefrontal cortex during exposure and structural changes in the hippocampus after successful therapy’ [1].

VRET, Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy, makes use of this result. This method allows systematic exposure, with increasingly confrontational/feared stimuli in a real setting. The visual aspect of the VR therapy has a significantly better effect on treating phobias, in comparison to previously used imagination therapy and one-on-one sessions with a therapist [1]. Not only acrophobia, but various other phobias or disorders can be treated using VR. Examples are OCD, social anxieties, panic disorders or agoraphobia [2].

If this blog has sparked interest in VR therapy, you should watch this video. It shows an overview of the Be Fearless app (free), which is aimed at people who fear heights. Through different levels, the environment gets more and more confrontational.

Can you make it to the 99th floor?
Spoiler alert; I CAN’T.

References

1 Parsons, T. & A. Rizzo 2006. Affective outcomes of virtual reality exposure therapy for anxiety and specific phobias: a meta-analysis. Journal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry.

2 Using Virtual Reality Therapy for Phobias.Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders. Source: http://centerforanxietydisorders.com/virtual-reality-therapy-for-phobias/

Edit: 2-10-2018, 00:00: link apparently didn’t work.


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