When it comes to virtual reality, it is starting to seem as though the possibilities with the platform are somewhat endless. In spite of the likes of Netflix taking a more relaxed approach, this is likely why a number of manufacturers and content providers are all working hard to port their offerings to accommodate virtual reality. However, it is increasingly becoming apparent that as well as the more entertainment-focused benefits, the platform could be one which is beneficial to the medical services. The latest case study confirming as much has come through this week when researchers at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford in England published a video on YouTube detailing how they are experimenting with virtual reality as a means to combat stress-inducing situations for those who are afflicted with paranoia.
While this is still very much in an early trial stage, what the researchers did is bring together 30 subjects who are all currently being treated for an extreme form of the illness and used virtual reality as a way to inject the participants into what would be otherwise a highly stress-inducing situation, like riding in an elevator or on the subway. Half of the patients were instructed to focus on their normal reactions in such instances, while the other half were actively encountered to engage and approach the avatars. With the first group essentially adopting the role of an ‘exposure therapy’ group and the second acting as a more unique form of 'interaction therapy'.
While it could be assumed the second group (exposure and interaction) would show a better response compared to the first (exposure-alone), the interesting aspect is that both sets of subjects showed improvement in their general levels of paranoia or stress after enduring only thirty minutes of the virtual reality treatment. Of course, there will be aspects which could be considered to be extraneous variables like the participant knowing that they are not in a real fearful situation, but the trial does act a means to highlight future use cases which could prove beneficial to both the medical services and patients alike. You can check out a brief demonstration of the experiment and its results in the video below.