Dr. Giuseppe Riva Director
Applied Technology for
Virtual Reality (VR) already a reality in behavioral health? The result of a meta-review assessing the meta-analyses, systematic and narrative reviews published in this field demonstrated the clinical potential of this technology both in the diagnosis and the treatment of mental health disorders: VR compares favorably to existing treatments in anxiety disorders, eating and weight disorders, and pain management, with long-term effects that generalize to the real world. But why is VR so effective? Here I suggest the following answer: VR shares with our brain the same basic mechanism, embodied simulations. According to neuroscience our brain, to effectively regulate and control the body in the world, creates an embodied simulation of the body in the world used to represent and predict actions, concepts and emotions. VR works in a similar way: the VR experience tries to predict the sensory consequences of the individual’s movements providing to him/her the same scene he/she will see in the real world. To achieve this the VR system, like the brain, maintains a model (simulation) of the body and the space around it. If the presence in the body is the outcome of different embodied simulations, concepts are embodied simulations, and VR is an embodied technology, this suggests a new clinical approach discussed in this keynote: the possibility of altering the experience of the body and facilitating cognitive modelling/change by designing targeted virtual environments able to simulate both the external and the internal world/body.