Most of the time, when people use VR, they’re only exposed to visual stimuli. Because of the reduced sensory input compared to real life, many scientists have shown how VR weakens certain neural connections.
Let’s dig deeper to understand the effects of virtual reality.
Neuroscience of Virtual Reality
VR compares favorably to current treatment options for anxiety disorders, bingeing/purging disorder, depression, and chronic pain, with long-term benefits that generalize to the “real” (non-virtual) environment.
Why is VR So Effective?
Like the brain, VR uses the same basic mechanism: embodiment.
According to neurosciences, to regulate and control our bodies in the real world effectively, we create an embodiment simulation of our bodies in the real-world environment to represent and predict actions and concepts.
VR works in a manner similar to how we perceive our senses in the real world. It predicts the sensory experiences we would get if we were actually there.
The Effectiveness of VR as a Clinical Tool
Many articles focus on the high degree of control and customizability offered by this technology.
- VR allows the level at which the fear stimulus matches the exposure to be adjusted.
- Furthermore, using it, the clinician has full control over the content of the session, limited only by the specific features available within the user program.
- It provides a safe and more private environment for patients that helps them engage better.
Level of “Presence”
One of the most important points mentioned by different articles is the degree of “presence” offered by the virtual experience.
Virtual reality (VR) allows individuals to enter a digital world where they can be placed and live in an artificial but realistic simulation.
VR as Simulative Technology
A growing theory suggests that the brain actively keeps track of its own body and the surrounding environment, providing predictions about the expected sensory inputs and trying to minimize the number of surprise events.
There are two main features of this simulation.
First, these models are not just simulations of sensory-motional experience; they’re simulations of sensory-motive experience.
- visceral/autonomic (interoceptive)
- Sensory (e.g., vision, hearing) information
Multimodal Neural Networks
Secondly, embodied simulation reactivates multimodal neural networks. These neural networks have previously produced the expected result.
This approach is used both for action and emotion. Specifically, an action is a pattern of distributed neural activity across multiple brain regions that supports goal achievement. Emotion is a pattern of distributed neuronal activity across multiple brain regions.
Hardware and Software
VR hardware tracks the movement of the person using it, while VR software adjusts its displays to match the movements made by the person wearing the headset.
To accomplish this, like the brain, a VR system keeps track of its own model of the body and the surrounding environment. It uses this simulation to predict what sensory inputs it expects from the outside world.
Virtual Reality (VR) as Embodied Technology
As we’ve just seen, the brain generates multiple multisensory predictions to help us understand our environment.
- upcoming sensory events both within and outside the body
- the best way to handle upcoming sensory events.
VR can offer new methods for structuring, augmentation, and/or replacing experiences of the body for clinical purposes. It may also offer new means of evaluating the functioning of the brain.
But what is the true clinical potential of VR as embodied technology?
According to neurosciences, the brain’s “matrices” serve to maintain the integrity of our bodies at both the homeostasis and psychological levels by supervising the cognitive and physiological resources needed to protect the whole organism and its surrounding environment.
VR as Cognitive Technology
VR is an embodied medium because it modifies our experiences of the world. But the human mind is not just another object like anything else; it has a special place in the universe.
At present, there is a major limitation preventing this from becoming a reality: VR simulates the outside world but not the inside one.
Does VR Mess with Our Minds?
Even though VR tech has improved a lot since the early days, there are still some limitations, including the fact that virtual environments don’t quite match up to reality.
An ideal VR immersion would consist of both visual stimulation and sound, plus the ability to stimulate our sense of taste and feel. Most of the time, however, the VR experience only includes visual stimulation.
Because of this reduced sensory input compared to real-world experiences, many scientists have shown how VR weakens certain neural pathways.
Neuroscientists have found some interesting results by merging mouse research with human studies. They’ve discovered that there are certain brain cells that help us navigate our surroundings.
Just How Real Does VR Feel?
Virtual Reality (VR) technology has the potential to allow people to experience things they might not be able to experience in real life. Our VR environment was designed to include just one sensory input – sight.
However, advanced VR technology integrates other sensory inputs as well. The more sense inputs that are integrated into a VR environment make it more immersive or closer to reality.
Immersive VR worlds create an illusion of presence, which makes us forget our actual location.
Like the brain, VR shares with us the same basic mechanisms embodied in simulations.
According to neurosciences, to regulate and control our bodies in the world effectively, we create an embodied simulation of the world in our brains used to understand and anticipate actions, concepts, and feelings.
Embodied simulations involve both sensory feedback from the physical world and internal models of the body.
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