Virtual Reality as an Experiential Tool: The Role of Virtual Worlds in Psychological Interventions

Virtual Reality as an Experiential Tool: The Role of Virtual Worlds in Psychological Interventions

Alessandra Gorini (Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Italy), Andrea Gaggioli (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy & I.R.C.C.S. Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Italy) and Giuseppe Riva (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy & I.R.C.C.S. Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-777-0.ch025

Abstract

The present chapter illustrates the past and the future of different virtual reality applications for the treatment of psychological disorders. After a brief technical description of the virtual reality systems, the rationale of using virtual reality to treat different psychological disorders, as well as the advantages that the online virtual worlds offer to the promising field of the virtual therapy will be discussed. However, challenges related to the potential risks of the use of virtual worlds and questions regarding privacy and personal safety will also be discussed. Finally, the chapter introduces the concept of “Interreality”, a personalized immersive form of e-therapy whose main novelty is a hybrid, closed-loop empowering experience bridging physical and virtual worlds. The main feature of interreality is a twofold link between the virtual and the real world: (a) behavior in the physical world influences the experience in the virtual one; (b) behavior in the virtual world influences the experience in the real one. This is achieved through: (1) 3D shared virtual worlds; (2) bio and activity sensors (that connect the real to the virtual world); (3) mobile internet appliances (that connect the virtual to the real world).
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Virtual Reality: The Technology

A typical VR system is made of the following components:

Hardware

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    the computational device: a desktop or a laptop pc equipped with an advanced image graphic card;

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    different peripheral devices (visual, aural or haptic devices);

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    a non immersive or immersive image display system: a screen or a head mounted display (HMD);

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    a motion sensor (or tracking device), usually integrated in the HMD, that tells the computer where the user is looking at on the basis on his/her head movement;

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