Virtual reality can help us be nicer to ourselves

New research shows that virtual reality avatars can help us to become less self-critical and develop more self-compassion.

As Psych Central reports, the study involved 43 women, all of whom were healthy but self-critical. All the women experienced the feeling being in another body in a virtual reality environment, where they were trained to comfort a (virtual) crying child. The child responded well when it was treated with compassion.

Twenty-two of the participants were then transferred into the virtual child body and experienced themselves receiving comfort, while 21 saw the same scene as independent observers. From surveying the women about their personality, mood, and state of mind before and after the experiment, the researchers found that those who watched the child-comforting scene from a distance reported reduced self-criticism. But those who had experienced the virtual child’s perspective had less self-criticism as well as more compassion towards themselves, and reported feeling more safe and happy.

Psychologists and computer scientists from University College London, University of Barcelona and the University of Derby worked together on the project, publishing their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

They now hope that their technique might offer hope for patients with depression, especially as the condition is linked to high levels of self-criticism. It has the advantage of being low-cost and easy to use at home. They’ll now do more in-depth studies to find out if it could have a long-lasting effect for people with and without depression, and to see if virtual reality can help men as well.

Image by Sebastian Stabinger via Wikimedia Commons.

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