Transforming Experience: The Potential of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for Enhancing Personal and Clinical Change
Last week the Open Access journal “Frontiers in Psychiatry” published a Review Paper (free download here:
http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00164/full) that explores the scientific evidences related to the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in behavioral health.
The review, that summarizes the outcomes of all the systematic reviews and meta-analyses (28) available in the scientific literature, supports their use in the treatment of anxiety disorders, stress-related disorders, obesity and eating disorders, and pain management. But still, there is no clear good quality evidence for or against using VR for the treatment of depression and schizophrenia.
In most pathologies, VR is used as simulative tool for controlled exposure to critical/fearful situations. The possibility of presenting realistic controlled stimuli and, simultaneously, of monitoring the responses generated by the user offers a considerable advantage over real experiences. More, the possibility of designing targeted VR experiences with different difficulty levels – from easy performances to very difficult ones – offers an important source of personal efficacy.
However, the use of VR in pain management and in the treatment of obesity and eating disorders suggest a different rationale: VR can also be used as an embodied technology able to alter our experience of the body and space. If most VR applications to date have been used to simulate external reality, it is also possible to use VR for the simulation of our internal reality including the perception and ownership of our body.
An example of this new approach is the use of Body Swapping for improving bodily experience in a Super-Super obesity case:
CASE REPORT ARTICLE
Front. Psychol., 16 June 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00837
A Novel Technique for Improving Bodily Experience in a Non-operable Super–Super Obesity Case
Figure 1. Body Swapping: The subject experiences a different body through the congruence between the visual (virtual body) and the tactile (real body) experience. Image courtesy of Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Milan, Italy (CC – BY 3.0)
The final outcome may be a new generation of transformative experiences that provide knowledge that is epistemically inaccessible to the individual until he or she has that experience, while at the same time transforming the individual’s worldview and pushing him/her to an immediate and irreversible personal or clinical change. More, it may offer a scientific path to improve the level of well-being in non-clinical subjects by inducing positive emotions, improving attitudes, and helping individuals in understanding and controlling the signals of their body.