Looking down from the heights of the top floor . . . .
The University of Oxford is treating Acrophobia or the fear of heights with immersive VR technology.
The study focused on Acrophobia because it is a very common phobia: "One in five people report having had a strong unreasonable fear of heights during their lifetime." Oxford professor of Clinical Psychology, Daniel Freeman, led the study which included 100 formally diagnosed adult volunteers. 49 of the volunteers were randomly assigned to the VR group. There were a total of six 30-minute VR sessions led by at VR avatar coach who guided the subjects through several scenarios simulating a fear of heights such as leaning over open atrium of a 10-story building, crossing a shaky rope bridge, and rescuing a cat from a tree. One quirky scenario involved riding a whale.
Image: Oxford VR
The BBC reported that “About 70% of the VR group no longer had a fear of heights, while unsurprisingly, all of the people in the control group, who received no treatment, still did." One VR group participant, Fay said: “Heights don’t worry me now. I recently managed to get a 30m-long escalator at Helsinki Airport and I was absolutely fine” Another participant, Dick, a retired paramedic, had similar results. He was finally able to relax, looking over a shopping center balcony which “would have been impossible before” his VR therapy.
This Virtual Reality therapy is a groundbreaking opportunity to help people conquer their fears and phobias. I had thought Virtual Reality was strictly for gaming and entertainment and was quite surprised to learn of this study. I have also experienced fears of heights, which included amusement park and water park rides. I am hoping that this VR therapy will be available in the United States and other countries.
According to The Oxford Student, Professor Freeman suggests other uses for VR therapy will include the treatment of psychosis and addictions. I hope they will help other phobia sufferers to conquer their fears. Psychological fears including agoraphobia and the fear of public speaking may one day be conquered due to this groundbreaking technology.