Researchers say self-compassion can be taught using avatars in an immersive virtual reality, with their trials showing reduced self-criticism and increased self-compassion in participants. Matthew Stock reports.
Learning to overcome feelings of inadequacy isn't easy. But a team of psychologists are helping those with esteem issues by teaching them self-compassion, using avatars in an immersive 3D virtual reality. The researchers have developed a unique self-to-self scenario in which participants are asked to express compassion towards a distressed virtual child while wearing a virtual adult body suit. The roles are then reversed, with participants transferred into the body of the virtual child. From this perspective they see their original virtual adult body deliver their own compassionate words back to them. Dr. Caroline Falconer, postdoctoral research associate at University College London, said participants reported immediate benefits. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR CAROLINE FALCONER, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "Afterwards, participants are a lot more self-compassionate, and they're a lot less self-critical. So, this is from a one-off session. We're now looking at the longevity of these effects in the on-going work that we're doing here at UCL. But also participants are reporting feeling safer, more content and more relaxed after the virtual reality session as well." She says the virtual reality scenario offers an ideal platform to tackle many mental health issues. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR CAROLINE FALCONER, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "What the virtual reality does is provide a platform to tackle various mental health problems. So one, for example, would be to deal with various aspects of the self. So you personify in an avatar an aspect of yourself; your subordinate self, the self that goes out on a Friday night that you don't like, or your submissive self, or your shy self, etc." The teams from UCL and the universities of Barcelona and Derby are setting up an in-depth, clinical study of their methods. And with the technology becoming ever more portable and cheaper, they say virtual reality therapy could offer a more accessible means of treating mental illness.