“A new study, published in the journal Biological Psychology, exposed participants with arachnophobia (a fear of spiders) first to real spiders and then to virtual ones.
There were two important findings – first that these “spider phobic” participants overestimated a spider’s size, secondly that this bias could then be reduced using VR.
Though it was already known that a fear of a particular object or event can increase your attention to it, this is the first time it has been shown that individuals with arachnophobia overestimate a spider’s size.”
“Created at the University of Southern California’s Medical Virtual Reality Lab, SimCoach is just one of several initiatives the lab has pioneered for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
‘The safe environment really is the idea of giving people opportunities to interact with this content, either in a therapy context or in private,’ says Skip Rizzo, the lab’s director and a clinical psychologist.
‘It’s totally confidential, there’s no tracking, there’s no monitoring of the system, people can ask this virtual agent questions about post-traumatic stress. The agent can ask them questions about the types of symptoms that they are experiencing and give a little feedback as to how difficult it might be for them.”
In another form of exposure therapy pioneered by Dr Rizzo and his team, a software system called Bravemind provides a sophisticated, lifelike virtual reality environment for helping patients revisit the scene of trauma.”
“Therapists do not typically keep boxes of live spiders in their desks. That can make it tricky to treat patients suffering from arachnophobia using exposure therapy, one of the most popular ways to combat phobias.
So startups and universities are starting to treat phobias using virtual reality. With realistic and immersive technologies like the Oculus Rift, therapists could help a patient overcome crippling fear using safe, easy-to-wrangle simulated spiders.”
“Scientists and medical professionals have been at the drawing board for years now, developing and implementing virtual reality in ways that can help them train, diagnose, and treat in myriad situations.
Here are just ten of the use cases that are currently in practice and continually developing as the technology itself develops too.”
Treatment for PTSD
Phantom limb pain
Brain damage assessment and rehabilitation
Social cognition training for young adults with autism
“Exposure therapy has proved a highly successful treatment for phobias, but it’s impractical for things such as fear of public speaking or flying. The answer may be virtual reality.
“Phobics know that when they see a little spider on the counter, they shouldn’t be panicking because technically it’s not dangerous,” says Stéphane Bouchard, a psychologist at the University of Quebec. “They’ll tell you, ‘I know this is crazy.’ But because they keep avoiding, their limbic system keeps associating spiders with danger or extreme disgust and they never undergo that corrective experience.”
For many types of phobia, however, traditional exposure therapy is not feasible. Crippling fears of public speaking or flying, for example, can be difficult to tackle practically. Over the past 10 years the solution has increasingly been the virtual world, utilising some of the technologies that brought us 3D cinema.”
“To enhance the effectiveness of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and animal phobias, the University of Texas UT3D program is now using its technology to create the illusion of being exposed to a fear, without having to come into direct contact.
The 3-D Fear Project was created in collaboration with the radio-television-film department and the psychology department. It uses an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and sound cancellation headphones to expose the patient to what they fear in the most realistic environment possible. Sean Minns, radio-television-film visiting student researcher, said using regular video to combat phobias is not enough.”
Dr. Gale Lucas and Prof. Albert “Skip” Rizzo of the USC Institute for Creative Technologies explain to NBC News their big idea behind a computer named “Ellie” that has the ability to identify people at risk for PTSD. It’s called virtual therapy.
“In Afghanistan, a new therapist is talking with soldiers. Her name is Ellie, she is the face of a computer program and she could be the key to identifying PTSD in America’s military.
Equipped with a Microsoft Kinect motion sensor, she nods at the right time, urges patients on with a well-timed “uh-huh,” and knows when to stop talking. A study released earlier this month found that patients were more willing to open up to Ellie than to a human therapist, mostly because they felt like they were not being judged by the computer program.”