By: Marco della Cava, USA TODAY
The increasingly vivid virtual world has the power to help veterans overcome post-traumatic stress syndrome and heroin users kick their habits. But for all the health benefits, risks loom — namely, that overexposure to virtual reality may generate its own trauma.
That’s the upshot of conversations with a variety of researchers working in VR-focused university labs around the country, where excitement mingles with concerns over the complex clinical effects of what may be the next big global tech phenomenon.
“The question seems to be, if VR is so real it can be used for treatment, then can it also create experiences that are traumatic?” says Mayank Mehta, a neurophysicist with the University of California-Los Angeles’ Center for Neurophysics whose research on lab rats reveals that VR causes the brain to react differently than it would to real-world stimuli.
Those unknowns, however, stand in contrast to virtual reality’s ability to take patients safely into worlds that otherwise would cause deep anxiety. Patrick Bordnick of theUniversity of Houston is using VR to generate the craving response that a familiar setting can trigger – in this case, a realistic heroin shooting gallery in a rundown house – and gradually coach the patient to resist that physical response.
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