General, Research, Technology

Virtual reality will help overcome fear of heights

We are all used to thinking that virtualreality is purely interactive entertainment. However, there are already quite a few developments in which VR technology is not used for games at all. For example, according to Lancet Psychiatry, a group of scientists from Oxford University managed to use virtual reality to rid people of fear of heights.

The new development borrows quite a bit from gamingindustry. For example, in a virtual space, a “mentor” —a specially created avatar — directs the patient’s actions. He gives tasks and monitors the state of man. In this case, the attending physician is for the most part only an outside observer, which makes the system completely autonomous. To immerse yourself in the virtual world, a completely standard set is used: a VR headset, motion sensors and controllers to control the character. The therapy itself consists in the fact that the “mentor” guides the patient through a virtual 10-story building. On each floor, the user performs tasks to overcome fear. For example, he needs to remove the cat from the window, go along the edge of the cliff, and so on. Over time, not only altitude changes, but also tasks. For example, at one of the last levels, a person needs to stand on a small platform that will carry him at high altitude. According to the author of the work, clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman,

“Performing these tasks, a person accumulates memories that the height, subject to special rules, is safe. And this is opposed to the old prejudices of fear. ”

To test the effectiveness of therapy was100 people who were afraid of heights were selected. 49 people received treatment using virtual reality, and 51 people did not receive any treatment at all. Before the test, as well as upon its completion, patients filled out a questionnaire indicating a fear of heights.

VR treatment results

Testing showed that those people whounderwent VR therapy, on average, fear of heights decreased by about 25 points. Moreover, after treatment, respondents noted that now they can safely go to places where they would never have gone before (for example, to the mountains). And the decrease in fear of heights persisted even 2 weeks after treatment. As one of the participants in the experiment noted,

“When I was worried about standing on the edge, Ifelt heavy in the legs. Now this is not the case. I am still reacting to heights, both in VR and in reality. But this feeling is now short-lived, and I can feel that my legs are softening, tension is being removed from them. ”