Virtual reality can induce mild, transient symptoms of depersonalization and derealization, study finds


A recently published study by researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany sheds new light on how virtual reality (VR) can influence a person’s sense of reality. The study reveals that the use of VR technology can induce feelings of alienation from one’s self and a sense of detachment from reality – phenomena known as depersonalization and derealization, respectively.

Indeed, after a short internet search, we found a few forum posts in which VR gamers complained of various dissociative symptoms and alienation experiences, which they attribute to their VR consumption. This prompted us to do this study to find out if VR could indeed cause such symptoms of depersonalization and derealization,” explained study author Niclas Braun, the head of the Virtual Reality Therapy research group and medical technology at the University of Bonn. The results were published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

For the purposes of the study, the researchers randomly assigned 80 participants (who did not suffer from any psychiatric or neurological disorder) to play the game “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” either using a VR headset or using a classic computer screen. Participants completed the German version of the Cambridge Depersonalization Scale at four different time points: immediately before the game, immediately after the game, one day after the game, and one week after the game. VR-induced motion sickness and perception of reality immediately after play.

Braun and colleagues found that depersonalization and derealization tended to be higher immediately after gambling in both groups of participants. However, they observed a greater increase in those who played Skyrim through a headset. The researchers also found that the perception of the reality of Skyrim was significantly higher in the group that played with a VR headset than in the group that played with a PC. What our study shows is that half an hour of VR use can induce mild symptoms of depersonalization and derealization, Braun said.

These symptoms, however, do not reach clinically significant levels and only show up directly after using VR, added the lead author of the study. However, Braun went on to state that “whether VR induces long-term depersonalization and the extent to which depersonalization is intensified by long-term use of VR are still unclear and require further investigation.” Nevertheless, Braun acknowledged that the study has some shortcomings.

Our study leaves many questions unanswered. For example, we’ve only looked at one VR game so far, so it’s unclear to what extent our found effects are transferable to other VR games or VR apps. Furthermore, we have so far only studied healthy individuals, but not different risk groups (for example, individuals who are at increased risk of psychosis, or individuals who already suffer from an anxiety disorder or ‘a post-traumatic stress disorder),’ said the researcher.

The study comes at a time when metaverse companies, including Meta’s Facebook, want to get people to wear VR headsets for long periods of time. As a reminder, the metaverse is a digital reality that combines aspects of social media, online games, augmented reality, virtual reality and cryptocurrencies to allow users to interact virtually. Augmented reality superimposes visuals, sounds, and other sensory input onto real-world frames to enhance the user experience. VR and AR headsets are the means to access these worlds.

Many see this idea as harmful to users’ health. In this regard, ric Schmidt, the ex-CEO of Google, hinted last November that Facebook’s metaverse is certainly not promising. He expressed his doubts and fears regarding the uncertainty of artificial intelligence technology for humans. In the metaverse, people will prefer to devour their day with their VR glasses in the metaverse, but Schmidt indicated that the realm will become virtual rather than material, which poses a threat to humanity.

On the other hand, Frances Haugen, Facebook’s whistleblower, said Zuckerberg’s metaverse will infringe on workers’ privacy and could compel more people to give up more data. Haugen worries that a Facebook/Meta-owned metaverse will only exacerbate the problems that exist on the company’s current platforms. Virtual environments such as those offered by Zuckerberg can be extremely addictive and encourage people to disconnect from the reality they live in, she said.

She also fears that the arrival of Facebook/Meta in the workplace will leave people with no choice but to hand over more personal data to the company. In the case of workplaces, we have no choice but to be in these spaces. If your employer decides they’re now a corporate metaverse, you need to give a lot more personal data to a company that’s been shown to lie whenever it’s in their best interest,” she said.

According to her, the fact that Facebook/Meta is launching a major initiative in the midst of a company-wide crisis is emblematic of how the company is approaching the issues. She prefers to do something else rather than repair her existing products. The fact that they can afford 10,000 more engineers to build video games when they supposedly can’t afford to have 10,000 engineers working on our security, I find that unacceptable,” Haugen told the European Parliament.

Source: Study Report

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Zuckerberg’s metaverse will breach workers’ privacy and could compel more people to release more data, says whistleblower Frances Haugen

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