PLoS One 2014 12;9(11):e111933. Epub 2014 Nov 12.
Clinical Educational & Health Psychology, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
Virtual reality has been successfully used to study and treat psychological disorders such as phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder but has rarely been applied to clinically-relevant emotions other than fear and anxiety. Self-criticism is a ubiquitous feature of psychopathology and can be treated by increasing levels of self-compassion. We exploited the known effects of identification with a virtual body to arrange for healthy female volunteers high in self-criticism to experience self-compassion from an embodied first-person perspective within immersive virtual reality. Whereas observation and practice of compassionate responses reduced self-criticism, the additional experience of embodiment also increased self-compassion and feelings of being safe. The results suggest potential new uses for immersive virtual reality in a range of clinical conditions.