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Virtual Reality Can Be Used To Treat Anxiety Disorders

Source: theatlantic.com
A new study has shown that Virtual Reality (VR) can have lasting implications on one's own body image. This discovery has given hope to those suffering from body image disorders, and has surprised skeptics of this technology. The practical uses of VR grow as quickly as the technology itself, and this promising technology is being used in various disciplines.

Many people still believe that VR has no place in the medical or psychological field, but various studies have proven this wrong. With further research and development, VR can be used to revolutionize the future of medicine and well-being.




Gamers Are Not the Only Ones to Take Advantage of Virtual Reality as Doctors, Educators, and Other Professionals Depend on it as Well


Even with the blazing fast growth rates of video games, Goldman Sachs reports that the VR marketshare of engineering, healthcare, military, and education will be $11.9 billion in 2025, compared to $11.6 billion for video games and entertainment. The future of VR is bright, but it also certainly has a place in everyday society today in many interdisciplinary fields.

Some of these incredible examples are literally out of this world; NASA has developed a robotic arm that can be controlled using virtual reality. It keeps the astronauts safe inside while maintaining impressive accuracy and precision. The US military is also a big proponent on VR, as soldiers are trained for field combat using VR headsets. Another example is in the education sector. Virtual museums, labs, and classrooms are currently being used on a relatively large scale.

All of these innovations are getting people excited, as evidenced by Michael. Michael is a lawyer in Baltimore, and he has to stay on the cutting edge as the law is constantly changing and evolving. It is obviously widely known that VR is associated with video games, but as Michael says "it can revolutionize the medical field,". 


Body Anxiety Disorders can be Treated by Changing the Lasting Memory of Your Body


Body anxiety disorders, as well as any other disorders that have to do with body image occur in a certain part of our brains. This is where the enduring memory of the body is stored, and it is called "allocentric memory". The allocentric memory of patients with no body image disorders is true to the actual size of their body, while the allocentric memory of patients that suffer from body image disorders is distorted.

The hypothesis that a change in allocentric memory can possibly treat body anxiety disorders is called Allocentric Lock Theory. This is so important because a treatment in body anxiety disorders via this theory would subsequently curb eating disorders as well. Previously, VR was used to simulate therapy sessions for those with anxiety disorders, with some studies even referencing the Allocentric Lock Theory. However, these studies had limited success and the improvement experienced was only temporary.

Virtual Reality Influences the Perception of Your Body, Even After the Headset is Off


A study published in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking is the first to attempt to change the allocentric memory of patients using VR. The researchers have stated that this could potentially be the first permanent solution to body anxiety disorders and could also be one of the most affordable.

The study gathered data from 21 female participants who were all enrolled at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. Their mean age was 22.76 years and their mean Body Mass Index (BMI) was 21.36. The participants voluntarily signed up for the study, and had varying results on a test measuring their predisposition to having a body anxiety disorder.

Source: Journal of Cyberpsychology
The participants' body parts were measured in the beginning of the study using a touch-less body scanner, and they gave their own body size estimates soon after. These estimates were self-reported by measuring the farthest left and right parts of each body part on a wooden backboard. This step basically acts as the participants' existing allocentric memory of their body. The subject would then put on a VR headset, and experience the Virtual Belly Illusion, pictured on the right. This gave the user a thinner abdomen and waist as well as slim hips and shoulders. Finally, the subject took off the headset and estimated their body size with the exact same method as before.

Source: Daniel Shats
The data was collected by analyzing the ratios of the subjects' body parts with their actual size measurements collected in the beginning of the experiment. Therefore, a ratio of 0.7 would be 70% the size of the actual measurement. The ratio of body part sizes ended up being statistically significant in over half of the measurements which yielded promising results. The participants legitimately experienced their body parts as being smaller and more appealing through the process of modifying allocentric memory in a VR setting. The full study with a further analysis can be found here.




The Potential Treatment of Body Anxiety Disorders is Cheaper, Easier, and More Effective with Virtual Reality


The results of the study are incredibly promising for researchers, VR companies, and sufferers of body anxiety disorders. VR, while still expensive, is rapidly dropping in price and is still monumentally cheaper than true medical treatment at a hospital or health center. It is also incredibly effective; one treatment in the study took less than 30 minutes and provided significant results.

It is now understood that the future of medicine will inevitably have VR in it, as will engineering, education, entertainment and other disciplines. The study mentioned above highlighted a use of VR that is extremely unique and cannot be recreated by many other technologies. This is why we should welcome this innovation as a potential solution to many of today's pressing issues.

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