By Sravika Bolla
Over the past decade, Virtual Reality has been becoming more prevalent. Virtual Reality is AI-based technology that can transport individuals into entirely virtual worlds. Typically, many devices are known for having VR-related experiences, including The Oculus Rift, The HTC Vive, and other VR headsets. Virtual Reality comprises of surrounding oneself with 3D virtual objects, that one can interact with, as well as choosing to engage in specific activities without actually doing them. Due to this, VR is well-known as a risk-free and engaging activity that has become popular throughout the entire world.
However, researchers have started spreading the idea of using VR to observe individuals' interactions for mental health examinations. By using VR, medical health professionals can monitor patients in supervised environments. This is preferred because patients do not need to leave the clinical environment for any performance tests. VR can also be used for clinical assessments. This is most significant when diagnosing psychosis, and anxiety disorders. Nevertheless, VR tests are prone to expand more and target other disorders such as depression, cognitive illnesses, and eating disorders as technological advancements continue.
Not only are VR assessments reliable, but they can be personalized, and engaging. In 2009, Pollak et al conducted a study regarding how engaging a VR test could be compared to a traditional assessment which can be longer, require more focus and concentration, and have repetitive questions. Pollak et al’s study showed that children from ages 9-17 favored the VR test better because of its immersive nature. Additionally, VR tests can be less costly and time-consuming than real-world assessments. Real-world assessments also require multiple locations and a way for easy data collection. Therefore, VR can make clinical assessments easier for both the patient and the medical health professional by making it easier to record and by having multiple locations.
Virtual Reality assessments are also proven to be accurate. According to the National Institute of Health, “Experiences in VR have also been found to elicit predictable behaviors, with one study finding that people with higher levels of paranoia kept a greater interpersonal distance from avatars within a virtual environment, which was considered a reflection of perceived trust and social threat. These findings highlight one of the main advantages of VR within mental health: the ability to simulate experiences in everyday life.” Furthermore, Alessandra Gorini executed an investigation of emotional reactions towards specific foods in real life, foods in virtual reality, and foods in photographs. Gorini realized that individuals had the same emotional response towards food in real-life kitchens, as well as virtual worlds. Their responses were also greater than their reactions toward food in photographs.
Using Virtual reality has also become popular in Exposure Therapy. Exposure Therapy is a type of treatment for fear and anxiety towards objects, or situations. This helps patients become more comfortable and eventually breaks down any fear. Similar to real-world clinical assessments, exposure therapy can be costly and very uncomfortable. Likewise, by using VR for exposure therapy, an individual can become more self-aware when they monitor their interactions. With different triggers, VR can be a safer experience because it offers a personalized experience. Virtual Reality devices can also be linked to technologies that track eye movements, heart rate, skin temperature, galvanic skin response (emotional arousal), and stimulus responses. This can be helpful for more precise examinations and for trustworthy statistics.
However, many VR devices are extremely expensive. Though they are less expensive than real-world exams, they can be costly because of their average price and availability. Currently, The Oculus Rift is an average of $599, and due to its massive popularity, will only become even more expensive. Virtual reality systems also have constant updates which take time and can be hard to check if owning many devices. Some patients may also undergo cybersickness, reality distortion, and eye strain.
In conclusion, Virtual Reality can aid in Exposure Therapy, and clinical assessments, with its interactiveness, accuracy, and comfort. Virtual Reality assessments are also more engaging with their unique and individualized experience. However, VR devices are also costly. hard to monitor, and can contribute to cybersickness and reality distortion. Despite all of this, Virtual Reality is expanding mental health awareness and possibilities in ways never thought possible.