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Virtual Reality: New Therapy for Neurological Disorders

Virtual Reality: New Therapy for Neurological Disorders

Emerging technology in the form of virtual reality (VR) may provide a new tool to aid treatment for neurological disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. A recent study suggests that playing games in VR could help individuals with these neurological conditions shift their perceptions of time, which their conditions lead them to perceive differently.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo discovered VR can help improve an individual’s perception of time. “The ability to estimate the passage of time with precision is fundamental to our ability to interact with the world,” says co-author Séamas Weech, a post-doctoral fellow in Kinesiology.

“For some individuals, however, the internal clock is maladjusted, causing timing deficiencies that affect perception and action. Studies like ours help us to understand how these deficiencies might be acquired, and how to recalibrate time perception in the brain.”

Researchers tested 18 females and 13 males with normal vision and no sensory, musculoskeletal or neurological disorders. The researchers used a virtual reality game, Robo Recall, to create a natural setting in which to encourage re-calibration of time perception.

The key manipulation of the study was that the researchers coupled the speed and duration of visual events to the participant’s body movements.

The researchers measured participants’ time perception abilities before and after they were exposed to the dynamic VR task. Some participants also completed non-VR time-perception tasks, such as throwing a ball, to use as a control comparison.

Investigators measured the actual and perceived durations of a moving probe in the time perception tasks. They discovered that the virtual reality manipulation was associated with significant reductions in the participants’ estimates of time, by around 15 percent.

“This study adds valuable proof that the perception of time is flexible, and that VR offers a potentially valuable tool for recalibrating time in the brain,” says Weech. “It offers a compelling application for rehabilitation initiatives that focus on how time perception breaks down in certain populations.”

Weech adds, however, that while the effects were strong during the current study, more research is needed to find out how long the effects last, and whether these signals are observable in the brain.

“For developing clinical applications, we need to know whether these effects are stable for minutes, days, or weeks afterward. A longitudinal study would provide the answer to this question.”

“Virtual reality technology has matured dramatically,” says Michael Barnett-Cowan, neuroscience professor and senior author of the paper.

“VR now convincingly changes our experience of space and time, enabling basic research in perception to inform our understanding of how the brains of normal, injured, aged and diseased populations work and how they can be treated to perform optimally.”

Source: University of Waterloo

Virtual Reality: New Therapy for Neurological Disorders

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Virtual Reality: New Therapy for Neurological Disorders. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/03/29/virtual-reality-new-therapy-for-neurological-disorders/144150.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Mar 2019 (Originally: 29 Mar 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Mar 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.