Innovation That Matters

Acrophobia VR therapy | Photo source Pixabay

Virtual reality therapy helps overcome acrophobia

Health & Wellbeing

VR therapy programme aims to reduce the fear of heights with computer-generated virtual coach.

Utilising the way people think is one of the most astonishing ways in which technology can function. From blockchain technology tackling extremist views to children learning about anti-discrimination via an online soccer game, its use is seemingly endless.

Researchers from University of Oxford spinout Oxford VR have optimised virtual reality to help those with a fear of heights overcome their phobia. The team has developed a VR programme in which psychological therapy is delivered by a computer-generated virtual coach. Users receive personalised treatment, therefore being able to interact with the virtual coach using voice recognition technology. A random selection of one hundred people with a fear of heights received either the VR therapy or no treatment. Participants had, on average, lived with a fear of heights for 30 years. Those who received the therapy spent an average of two hours in VR over five treatment sessions. All participants in the VR group showed a reduction in fear of heights, with the average reduction being 68 percent. Furthermore, half of the participants in the VR group had a reduction in fear of heights by over three quarters.

The study, published in The Lancet, concludes that psychological therapy delivered automatically by a VR coach can produce large clinical benefits. It also predicted the future potential for a variety of other mental health disorders.




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