VR for Mental Relaxation
Many people who need long-term care are suffering from depression. And there is an increased sense of loneliness amongst for example elderly due to loss of mobility10. In this light, it is hardly surprising that activities against boredom have a proven positive effect on the perceived quality of life.
With VR we can really bring the fight against boredom to the next level. Several studies have proven that virtual reality can positively impact how people feel. Scientists found that VR can bring relaxation, happiness and a reduction in sadness among participants exposed to a virtual walk in a soothing park11. Another study with fibromyalgia patients showed significant increases in general mood state, positive emotions and motivation12.
Studies in seniors at risk of cognitive decline measured positive effects on psychological outcomes, depressive symptoms and anxiety thanks to VR13. These results are in line with early VR research: interaction with calming virtual environments leads to perceived relaxation in the real world.
Perceived loneliness amongst people of age 85+
People age 85+ with severe depression
Older adults with a depression, not recognized by caregivers
Building on these scientific results, how small a step is it to believing that ultimately virtual reality might help people ‘see the glass as half full’ more often? While it is widely known in psychology that the human mind tends to be biased towards the negative, might not repeated positive experiences in amazing virtual worlds help shift that balance a bit? After all, researchers have already found that our focus on negative information decreases under positive stimuli14.
Although there is no solid scientific evidence yet of VR’s ability to change people’s outlook on life for extended periods of time, one might conclude that frequent exposure to beautiful virtual experiences won’t hurt, to say the least.
10 volksgezondheidenzorg.org / Living in a Nursing Home: Quality of Life, The Priorities of Older People with a Cognitive Impairment
11 Affective interactions using virtual reality: the link between presence and emotions. Rica G. et al, Cyberpsychol Behav. 2007 Feb 10(1):45-56.
12 Virtual reality for the induction of positive emotions in the treatment of fibromyalgia: a pilot study over acceptability, satisfaction, and the effect of virtual reality on mood. Herrero, R., García-Palacios, A., Castilla, D., Molinari, G., & Botella, C. (2014). Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17(6), 379–84.
13 Computerized and virtual reality cognitive training for individuals at high risk of cognitive decline: systematic review of the literature. Coyle, H., Traynor, V. & Solowij, N. (2015). American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 23 (4), 335-359.
14 Being Bad Isn’t Always Good: Affective Context Moderates the Attention Bias Toward Negative Information, Heather A. Katafiasz and Kathleen E. Moran, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 90, No. 2, 210–220