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Virtual Reality Can Significantly Reduce Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in Just a Month By Turning Sufferers Into Avatars

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Virtual reality provides some relief for a hospitalized youngster.

A new virtual-reality system developed at University College London could help reduce the symptoms of depression.

Credit: Aitor Rovira

University College London (UCL) researchers have developed a virtual-reality system they say could help reduce the symptoms of depression.

The researchers used the virtual-reality therapy to treat 15 depression patients, and found more than half reported reduced symptoms within a month.

The study found receiving therapy in a virtual-reality world, using a computer-generated image of the patient, reduces self-criticism and boosts self-compassion and feelings of contentment.

As part of the experiment, patients wore a virtual-reality headset to view themselves from the perspective of a life-sized avatar. The researchers note seeing this virtual body in a mirror moving in the same way as their own body typically produces the illusion this is their own body, a phenomenon called "embodiment."

While embodied in an adult avatar, participants were trained to express compassion towards a distressed virtual child. Later, the patients were embodied in the virtual child and saw the adult avatar deliver their own compassionate words and gestures to them; this brief eight-minute scenario was repeated three times at weekly intervals, and the patients were followed up a month later.

"In this study, by comforting the child and then hearing their own words back, patients are indirectly giving themselves compassion," says UCL professor Chris Brewin.

From Daily Mail (United Kingdom)
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