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VR-Related

Why Therapy in Virtual Reality?

Presence

One reason that virtual reality (VR) therapy has profound impacts on human psychology is how immersive it is. Once a user puts on their virtual reality headset, they are transformed into a new space– A new reality where everything from the laws of physics to their environment can be modified. Secondly, there are no screens that frame the experience. This is because headsets provide sensory information that the brain processes as everyday reality. Additionally, the headset tracks head and body movements making the user navigate the virtual space with their body. So, with sounds, sights, and even haptic feedback, VR mimics physical spaces and situations with digital technology. As a result, users feel a full sense of bodily presence in the environments they explore through their headsets.

Presence is divided into three categories; personal, social, and environmental. Personal presence is easily created via virtual mirrors or visual identifiers like virtual hands. Social presence is established when interacting with other virtual beings like avatars or characters in a natural way, like through conversation or body language. And finally, environmental presence is a combination of the two that makes users feel connected to their virtual environments. In order to have a better understanding of presence, the ITC-Sense of Presence Inventory uses a four-factor assessment. They measure physical space, engagement, naturalness, and negative effects from the user’s point of view. This way, researchers can grasp how users’ journeys might impact their emotional states. So, despite debates on the definition and study of presence, there is a consensus that VR activates a sense of presence in a variety of users. This allows for a change in the dynamics of therapy, making it all the more immersive and rewarding.

Immersion

In VR experiences, immersion and presence are particularly important for skill learning and insight creation. By providing a story or narrative that the user can participate in, VR transports individuals into worlds that foster engagement and enjoyment. The feeling is comparable to the satisfaction of watching a movie or playing a video game, but in VR, users have an active role in the story. Therefore, users feel a sense of agency and responsibility. VR therapy can gamify difficult situations to learn and practice new skills. With inspiring visuals and stories, users can gain skills transferrable to the real world, ranging from emotion regulation to mindfulness. Additionally, the interactive stories provided in VR can reduce negative self-focus and enable reflection on oneself from a new perspective. In the end, VR creates a platform for engaged learning that positively impacts personal narratives.

The potential of VR therapy is vast, and it promises to make its way into more therapy programs as VR becomes a part of our daily lives. This is because it enables experiential control for therapists, creates specialized scenarios for different needs, and produces environments for psychological growth and training. Practically, it immerses people in scenarios that are difficult to replicate in real life, costly, and sometimes even physically impossible. VR therapy is an outlet for agency, narrative change, and a next-level experience for healing.

Foretell Reality

Foretell Reality is a VR therapy platform that leverages immersion and presence to create intimate gathering spaces for therapy and support groups. The app uses lifelike avatars that track hand and body movements and creates a seamless sense of social presence.

References:

Green, M. C., Brock, T. C., & Kaufman, G. F. (2004). Understanding Media Enjoyment: The Role of Transportation Into Narrative Worlds. Communication Theory, 14(4), 311-327. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2004.tb00317.x

Lessiter, J., Freeman, J., Keogh, E., & Davidoff, J. (2001). A Cross-Media Presence Questionnaire: The ITC-Sense of Presence Inventory. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 10(3), 282-297. doi:10.1162/105474601300343612

NewPathVR, N. (2020). VR Psychology. Retrieved August 13, 2020

VR-Related

VR for Spatial Navigation Training

Capacities of VR

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated technology that creates immersive and interactive experiences transcending physical boundaries. Currently used by clinicians and therapists alike, VR can assist many types of physical and mental rehabilitation programs. This includes the clinical assessment, training, and feedback on performance for spatial navigation challenges.

VR helps scientists measure the strategies different age groups and primate species use for navigation. In evolutionary psychology, it is used to test spatial cognitive abilities such as learning, memory, and spatial navigation. Studies examine navigation through mazes and environments with various 3D and 2D landmarks and sometimes track neural activity.

Researchers use VR in one of the most challenging areas in neuroscience: the investigation of cortical mechanisms. It is technically challenging to perform neurophysiological recordings on people who move freely and navigate various scenarios throughout the day. So, VR offers control over landmarks, distractions, and spaces to assess attention and behavior.

Treatment and Rehabilitation

A study shows that VR can help neurologically assess and rehabilitate conditions such as spatial disorientation. Spatial disorientation is a severe case of difficulty navigating all types of environments, new or routine, commonly caused by brain damage. A verbally-guided VR-based navigation training program improved route finding for 11 participants with spatial disorientation.

VR training could also help treat landmark agnosia, a condition where patients cannot locate landmarks in the real world, impairing their navigation. Trials were even successful with more common conditions such as amnesia. These simulations have shown to have ecological validity, as virtual representations of real-life environments have successfully trained individuals to navigate real-life environments.

One key benefit to spatial navigation training is protecting the hippocampus against age-related changes during early and late adulthood. With VR, training can be done from anywhere in the world and with fewer physical barriers to accessibility. Since there are over 171 million VR users worldwide, implementing spatial navigation training in VR games could also achieve widespread preventative success.

Foretell Reality

Foretell Reality is an inclusive social VR platform where up to 15 active users can meet for live therapy and support groups. In the app, users can walk or teleport around open spaces, exploring private and public environments. Some spaces also provide navigation simulations such as mazes that allow for real-time spatial navigation training with professionals.

References:

Virtual reality in neurologic rehabilitation of spatial disorientation – PMC (nih.gov)

VR Training with Spatial Knowledge and Navigation (1library.net)

Spatial navigation training protects the hippocampus against age-related changes during early and late adulthood – ScienceDirect

Virtual reality in neurologic rehabilitation of spatial disorientation – PMC (nih.gov)

Landmark Agnosia: Evaluating the Definition of Landmark-based Navigation Impairment | Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

Landmark Agnosia: Evaluating the Definition of Landmark-based Navigation Impairment | Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

The Hippocampus in the Limbic System (thoughtco.com)

23 Amazing Virtual Reality Statistics [2022]: The Future Of VR + AR – Zippia

experiencing awe in VR
VR-Related

The Therapeutic Power of Awe in VR

Awe In VR

Virtual reality offers a powerful, novel method by which awe can be experienced in almost any setting. Creating an authentic sense of presence among vast and complex stimuli, VR is reported to be awe-inspiring by users alike, from first-timers to VR fans who regularly play VR games, socialize, or do business in VR. While research identifies that awe is one of the most powerful emotions we feel, its current therapeutic utility is limited by the practical problem of bringing awe-inspiring environments into therapy settings.

VR, however, has the capacity to bring us into vast and immersive environments within seconds. It can therefore reactivate the transformative utility of awe by presenting carefully crafted 3D environments and lifelike social simulations. Awe is a reaction to stimuli characterized by two features: perceptual vastness, and the need for cognitive accommodation. In other words, awe tends to be evoked by stimuli that are large, either physically, or by their cognitive implication, and which challenge one’s existing understanding of the world. It is an emotion that we feel when we see a breathtaking landscape or listen to rich and moving music.

The Therapeutic Power of Awe

The psychological effects of awe have important implications for promoting well-being, including dampening the body’s stress responses, and drastically changing how people process information. After experiencing awe, people have a more communal sense of self and adopt more inclusive values. Likewise, experiences of awe increase openness to experience, reduce the need for cognitive closure and reportedly challenge one’s worldview. So, when multiple people are experiencing awe together, the foundations for community, care, and compassion are laid out immediately.

Inducing awe during therapy sessions in VR could also help people open up and be more comfortable, shifting their preconceived notions about therapy when there is resistance to treatment or healing. VR therapy has the power to change what we see, and the emotional and cognitive state that we find ourselves in. However, unlike any other therapy, it offers clients and therapists much more immersion and control. It can therefore be used as a therapeutic tool for psychological intervention at home, in workplaces, and in clinical settings within sessions starting from a mere 3 minutes.

Foretell Reality

Foretell Reality leverages the power of virtual reality to create environments and experiences that induce intimacy, and a shared sense of awe. From sitting around a campfire and playing the guitar, to watching the rain fall and drinking hot cocoa in a cozy room, users can meet in different settings and discuss matters that are close to their hearts. But it does not stop there, you can travel across the world, see 360 videos of places you have never been, and interact with the virtual world in a creative and collaborative way.

To read more about awe in VR and see experimental results, click here.

References:

ASU News. (2019, January 3). Research that takes your breath away: The impact of awe. ASU 

News. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from https://news.asu.edu/20190103-research-takes-yourbreath-away-impact-awe.

Bai, Y., Maruskin, L. A., Chen, S., Gordon, A. M., Stellar, J. E., McNeil, G. D., … & Keltner, D. 

(2017). Awe, the diminished self, and collective engagement: Universals and cultural variations 

in the small self. Journal of personality and social psychology, 113, 185.

Campos, B., Shiota, M. N., Keltner, D., Gonzaga, G. C., & Goetz, J. L. (2013). What is shared, 

what is different? Core relational themes and expressive displays of eight positive 

emotions. Cognition & emotion, 27(1), 37-52.

Chirico, A., Yaden, D. B., Riva, G., & Gaggioli, A. (2016). The potential of virtual reality for the 

investigation of awe. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. 

https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01766

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. 

Cognition and Emotion, 17, 297–314. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699930302297 

Lindner, P. (2020). Better, virtually: The past, present, and future of Virtual Reality Cognitive 

Behavior therapy. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 14, 23–46. 

https://doi.org/10.1007/s41811-020-00090-714

Shiota, M. N., Keltner, D., & Mossman, A. (2007). The nature of awe: Elicitors, appraisals, and 

effects on self-concept. Cognition and Emotion, 21, 944–963. 

https://doi.org/10.1080/02699930600923668

VR during surgery
Industry News, Other, VR-Related

Virtual Reality as an Alternative to Anesthesia and Painkillers

Hospitals across the UK are embracing virtual reality (VR) as a tool for pain distraction during surgery and are finding that the benefits extend even beyond minimizing pain. 

A recent article published in The Irish News takes an in depth look at the impact VR  is making for patient populations. By using VR, the elderly are sometimes able to avoid anesthesia, which can result in serious side effects for older patients, including postoperative cognitive dysfunction. VR is also being used for children, as the sensory experience helps anxious and fidgety young patients to sit still during complicated procedures.  And VR’s benefits extend to all patients as it has been shown to reduce anxiety before, during, and after procedures.  An additional important use is the treatment of chronic pain as an alternative to addictive painkillers, which can result in long-term substance abuse disorder. The article cites a 2020 review from Health Technology Wales, which concludes that VR is actually more effective at reducing pain during and immediately after procedures than standard care, such as painkillers. 

Beyond improved patient care,  hospitals experience the added benefit of reducing overall costs. Anesthesia itself is expensive, and it often requires an overnight stay. Many patients (not just the elderly) are adversely impacted by anesthesia and experience symptoms like vomiting and chills, which extends their hospital stay. 

So why are the VR simulations, from a roller coaster ride to a wildlife safari, so effective? According to Jordan Tsigarides at the University of East Anglia, “VR is immersive. It floods the brain with audio-visual signals, engaging the senses and diverting the brain’s attention from processing pain signals…by putting someone in a situation outside of their normal environment, VR can be relaxing. And if you add in an engaging task such as a game, then it’s not hard to grab their full attention.”

Body transfer
Industry News, Soft Skills, VR-Related

VR Body Transfer for Animal Empathy

As environmental catastrophes are increasing, Daniel Pimentel at the University of Oregon wondered whether Body Transfer using virtual reality (VR) would help humans to identify with other animals and increase the empathy required for strong conservation efforts.  

Body Transfer, sometimes referred to as body ownership, is an illusion that tricks the mind using visual and sometimes haptic input into experiencing the embodiment of another human or animal. Through an immersive 15-minute VR simulation participants in Pimental’s study experienced the plight of an endangered loggerhead sea turtle as it navigated (often man-made) hazards from birth to adulthood, including treacherous obstacles like fishing nets. Participants were given a firsthand perspective through a specially designed chair that mimicked a sea turtle’s paddling posture (they perceived their own arms as flippers), and through haptic vibrations along their spine when they encountered motor vibrations of nearby boats.

Through a series of four experiments, Pimental and fellow researchers concluded that virtual embodiment of a sea turtle can offset compassion fade, which is an inverse relationship wherein empathy actually decreases as the (human or non-human) casualty victim count increases. Moreover, Body Transfer allowed participants to see other turtles in the simulation as part of their in-group, thereby facilitating reciprocal altruism, and that embodiment of the sea turtle increased the threat perception, influencing the amount of money that participants donated to hypothetical conservation efforts. 

Virtual Reality Reminiscence Therapy
Mindfulness, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

The Power of Virtual Reality Reminiscence Therapy

Cognitive decline can lead to social isolation and many older people suffer from dementia-related anxiety. In a recent article, The New York Times took a look at a practice to help minimize the effects of the disease using virtual reality (VR) reminiscence therapy. Traditional (non-VR) reminiscence therapy has been practiced for several decades and allows older generations to reconnect with joyous and meaningful events of their youth through photographs, videos, and music. Along with positive feelings, nostalgia can help cultivate confidence and long-term perspective, at a time when many are grappling with the instability of short-term memory loss. For those who do not experience a significant improvement in well-being from traditional reminiscence therapy, the addition of virtual reality elements can be a dramatic turning point. 

The immersive experience of VR reminiscence therapy is helping patients to socialize in their daily lives, reversing the pre-treatment pattern of isolation. The article focuses on John Faulkner, a seventy-six year old resident of Central Parke Assisted Living and Memory Care in Mason, Ohio. Mr. Faulkner was withdrawn and showed no discernable improvement with reminiscence therapy by simply viewing photos until the center used an immersive virtual reality experience that allowed him to virtually walk along Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher where he had once visited in person with his wife. Over the course of his weekly 45-minute VR sessions, Mr. Faulkner not only became more sociable with other residents, he now requires less medication to treat his anxiety. A senior administrator at Central Parke stated that residents who engage in VR reminiscence therapy have experienced up to a 70% reduction in their usage of antipsychotics.

The article emphasizes the substantial shift the population will experience over the next forty years, as the 65+ age segment is expected to double in size. Technological tools will likely be very impactful to aid younger generations in caring for the elderly. In addition to VR reminiscence therapy, virtual reality is being used to treat elderly patients who suffer from chronic pain as well as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent research at MIT has also shown that VR can decrease depression and social isolation in seniors. And a study is currently underway at the University of Santa Barbara, California using VR technology that allows families to take trips with their elderly family members. Not only can a senior revisit places where meaningful events took place, they may soon be able to bring along their grandchildren to experience the exuberance of the jazz age, for example, or to visit the town they grew up in.

Foretell Reality focuses on bringing people together in VR to enhance human interaction and facilitate social connection, often guided by mental-health professionals. 

Study: 3d versus 2d Video for retention and engagement
Soft Skills

Study: 360 Video in VR Increases Engagement and Retention

Three-dimensional (3D) video is a powerful feature of Virtual Reality (VR) because it fully envelopes the viewer within a panoramic scene. The effect is similar to sitting in a darkened planetarium, convinced that you have been transported to the center of our universe.

But is 3D video just another way to watch content or could there be deeper implications for learning and psychology? A recent study set out to determine this by comparing the psychological state and learning ability of subjects who were shown the same three videos in 2D conditions and in 3D conditions (VR).

As they viewed the videos, their brain signals (EEG signals) and facial reactions (EMG signals) were recorded using a value called fractal dimension. Researchers then developed a universal formula to compare the fractal dimension between the two types of viewing experiences.

The results revealed that “the EMG signal had a greater value of the fractal dimension in response to 3D videos compared to 2D videos, indicating that the EMG signal is more complex in response to 3D videos compared to 2D videos. In other words, the facial muscles are more engaged with stimuli where they are presented in 3D rather than in 2D.”

With regard to learning ability, “the rate of correct responses to the questions posed after watching the 3D video was 92.60%, which was higher than that obtained after the 2D videos at 80.87%. This difference suggested that the 3D videos resulted in greater attention paid to the details of videos and therefore increased the learning ability of the students.”

It is worth noting that the headset used in this particular study was based on cellular phone technology and not the latest, much more powerful headsets now in the marketplace. Given the level of clarity and freedom of movement now available, another study with updated hardware should be considered.

The Foretell Reality platform includes the ability to view 3D video within an environment alone or with others in real time. Some use cases include social viewing, mindfulness training, pain distraction, and exposure therapy. Request a demo to experience it yourself.

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