Science Gazette

Virtual reality may make treatment more bearable

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According to a recent survey, 30% of individuals would rather chat about their unpleasant experiences with a virtual reality avatar than with a human.

If talking to a therapist is too scary for you, new study reveals you’re not alone — and you may soon have another alternative.

According to an Edith Cowan University (ECU) research, 30% of respondents would rather chat about unpleasant experiences with a virtual reality avatar than with a real person.

Researchers studied social interactions between persons who participated in virtual reality conversations and those who conversed face-to-face.

They created a’realistic motion avatar’ that closely resembled their real-life counterpart using complete facial and body motion capture technologies, then compared how individuals interacted with avatars to humans.

Participants judged their experience on aspects such as satisfaction, perceived understanding, comfort, discomfort, and the level to which they thought they exposed personal information, according to psychology and communication expert Dr. Shane Rogers.

“With the exception of intimacy, where individuals tended to feel a bit closer with each other while face-to-face,” Dr Rogers said, “they assessed VR social engagement as comparable to face-to-face interaction.”

While virtual reality technology has been available for a while, Dr. Rogers believes that employing motion capture to augment VR might propel it into our daily lives.

“This technology has the potential for widespread use in a variety of fields, including informal chat, business, tourism, education, and treatment,” Dr. Rogers added.

“According to the research, 30% of individuals prefer to share bad experiences via virtual reality. This suggests that counseling may become more accessible to those who are uncomfortable with conventional face-to-face contacts.

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“It might also help therapists conduct treatment more successfully at a distance, since a person can be in the therapist room (in virtual reality) while sitting in their own house.”

Dr. Rogers predicted that in the following five years, virtual reality social contact will become mainstream rather than specialty.

“More powerful computers are getting more accessible, virtual reality headsets and peripherals are continuing to evolve, and more user-friendly virtual reality interaction software platforms are becoming available and being upgraded,” he added.

The next phase in the study will be to look at how characteristics of the avatar (such quality of motion and visuals) affect the user experience, as well as the possibilities of VR in therapeutic settings.

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