Dare To Explore: VR Helps You Conquer Your Fears
What are you afraid of? We all like to think we’re unique, but when it comes to our fears, there are the most common fears people hold. According to the study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, birds, insects and other animals topped the list of common fears in an enormous survey of 43,093 US adults, followed by mountains, tall buildings, bridges and other heights. Some fears are just universal and innate as a response to potential threat of dangers such as a frightening experience of storms, thunder, and lightning. However, other extreme or irrational fears to objects or situations known as phobias trigger entirely different reactions including rapid heart beats, the sweats, trembling and chest pain. Since phobias have no evolutionary purpose to avoid dangers, the phobias are considered as a sort of mental illness, subtypes of anxiety disorder.
For phobias, facing a specific fear in a gradual and consistent manner is the most effective and common treatment, called exposure therapy. As Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion in March 2014, VR environments is on the verge of treating phobias by placing the patients in a virtual world where they experience specific fears including heights, elevators, thunderstorms, public speaking and flying with a promise of greater immersion and more realism. According to Chris Brewin, a professor of clinical psychology at University College London, the potential of VR to treat phobias and fears is huge. In VR exposure therapy, patients are placed in a computer-generated three-dimensional virtual world and guided through the selected environment. Unlike the real environment in the standard exposure therapy, the virtual environments allows the therapist ultimate control over each patient for the perfect simulation.
Samsung’s ‘Be Fearless’ Gear VR campaign is one of the most impressive use cases that helped people face their fears of heights and public speaking and overcome them. In the campaign, Samsung gave 27 people the chance to participate in a four-week training program delivered with Gear VR before offering the chance to face their fear in real life. The participants were taken through virtual scenarios from travelling upwards in an transparent elevator to heli-skiing. Before advancing to the different levels of difficulty, they had to pass a scientific evaluation such as heart rate, eye movement, and self assessment of anxiety levels. According to Samsung, this training helped 87.5% of the group afraid of heights reduce their anxiety level by 23.6%.
Although clinical use of VR is in its infancy, VR therapy has slowly but surely made its way to the US shores for years, specifically to treat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Findings of a study published in Advances in Integrative Medicine reported that VR therapy significantly reduces in severity of PTSD symptoms and result in rapid extinction . The findings also suggested combining VR and EEG biofeedback as a potential treatment of stress-related disorders. It is because real-time neurophysiological data such as serum cortisol levels, heart rate variability and mid-frontal alpha EEG asymmetry may provide useful inputs for adjusting VR exposure therapy protocols to enhance stress resilience or accelerate treatment response.
A little bit of fear is normal and sometimes useful, but phobias can interfere with an individual’s ability to lead a normal life. Is fear holding you back? Let VR and EEG biofeedback train you and overcome your phobias.