Virtual reality helps people to comfort & accept themselves

New research suggests that self-compassion can be learned using avatars in an immersive virtual reality.

This innovative approach reduced self-criticism and increased self-compassion and feelings of contentment in naturally self-critical individuals. The scientists behind the study say it could be applied to treat a range of clinical conditions including depression.

Embodying Compassion A Virtual Reality Paradigm for Overcoming Excessive Self-Criticism

Psychology meets computer science

The team of psychologists and computer scientists from UCL, University of Barcelona and University of Derby designed a method to improve people’s compassion to themselves, by creating a unique self-to-self situation using avatars and computer gaming technology. Virtual reality has previously been used to treat psychological disorders including phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder but this research focused on a new application for promoting emotional well-being.

In the study published in PLOS ONE in November 2014, 43 healthy but self-critical women experienced a life-size virtual body substituting their own, giving a first person perspective of a virtual room through the eyes of the avatar.

The participants were all trained to express compassion towards a distressed virtual child while in their adult virtual body. As they talked to the crying child, it appeared to listen and respond positively to the compassion. After a few minutes, 22 of the participants were then transferred to the virtual child body and from this perspective they saw their original virtual adult body deliver their own compassionate words and gestures to them. The remaining 21 participants observed their original virtual adult body express compassion to the child from a third person perspective. The participants were surveyed for mood, state and personality traits before and after the experiment using verified tests.

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Professor Mel Slater, co-author from ICREA-University of Barcelona and UCL Computer Science, says, “When you wear a head-mounted display and look down towards yourself and see a virtual body replacing and moving like your own, and also see it in a mirror, this gives a powerful clue to the brain that this is your body.”

“We have shown before that when adults are embodied in a virtual child body that this influences their perceptions of the world and themselves to become child-like. Here they experienced receiving compassion from their adult selves while embodied as a child.”

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