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From "abstract" to "visceral": Virtual reality systems could help address pain

Can you imagine a world wherein video games are good for your health? A piece on notes that advances in virtual reality (VR) have made headsets more affordable, and that applications for the technology, on the cusp of being available for home use, could extend beyond entertainment and into the realms of health sciences, finance and more.

From the piece:

"Virtual reality transforms relationships that tend to be abstract to become visceral," says Jeremy Bailenson, [PhD,] director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab. "Our research has shown that making this cause and effect relationship perceptual, as opposed to theoretical, changes consumer and other behaviors more than other interventions."

VR can be an effective tool even where cause and effect are not obvious. In a collaboration with Stanford's Department of Anesthesia, Bailenson used the technology to place children with chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS) -- a disease characterized by severe pain, swelling, and changes in the skin -- in virtual simulations that divert their brains from unpleasant physical therapy and treatment. The children use computer-generated doubles known as avatars, a fixture in VR environments, to perform a simple exercise like popping balloons, distracting them from processing pain signals.

University of Washington researchers have developed a similar form of therapy known as SnowWorld, in which patients concentrate on throwing snowballs at penguins and mastodons to the music of Paul Simon, rather than focusing on painful wound and burn treatments. The technique is so effective, the researchers say, that it has reduced the need for strong narcotics and other addictive painkillers.

Previously: Can Joe Six-Pack compete with Sid Cyborg?Ask Stanford Med: Neuroscientist taking questions on pain and love’s analgesic effects and Can behavioral changes in virtual spaces affect material world habits?

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