A recent study from the University College London and ICREA-University of Barcelona has found that specific virtual reality simulations can reduce the amount of self-critical behavior and therefore help to treat depression.

The study practiced the concept of embodiment. People were asked to comfort an upset child by saying anything they wanted to say. Then the roles were reversed. The patients became the child and heard their own words reflected back to them.

“People who struggle with anxiety and depression can be excessively self-critical when things go wrong in their lives,” explains study lead Professor Chris Brewin (UCL Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology). “In this study, by comforting the child and then hearing their own words back, patients are indirectly giving themselves compassion. The aim was to teach patients to be more compassionate towards themselves and less self-critical, and we saw promising results. A month after the study, several patients described how their experience had changed their response to real-life situations, in which they would previously have been self-critical.”

The study was conducted as a proof of concept using a small sample size of 15 participants. But the authors behind the study want to do testing on a larger sample size and the addition of a control group.

“If a substantial benefit is seen, then this therapy could have huge potential. The recent marketing of low-cost home virtual reality systems means that methods such as this could potentially be part of every home and be used on a widespread basis,” said co-author Professor Mel Slater (ICREA-University of Barcelona and UCL Computer Science).

Nicole Tanner

Nicole Tanner

Nicole has been playing games her entire life. Now that she's a mom, she's passionate about promoting games as a healthy pastime to other parents around the globe. She has been an editor at IGN, where she launched and hosted the Girlfight podcast. In her spare time (which is not very much, honestly) she enjoys gaming, reading, and writing fiction. Most of the time she’s a mom to a crazy, intelligent, and exhausting little girl.