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Virtual reality may help get over fear of death

Tuesday, 31 January 2017
PTI

London: Using virtual reality (VR) devices to create an illusion of out-of-body experience may help people get over the fear of death, a new study has claimed.

A Near-Death Experience (NDE) is an altered state of consciousness that can occur during clinical death typically following cardiac arrest. Characteristics of NDEs can vary widely, but generally include the perception of moving through a tunnel, bright lights, meeting spiritual beings, a panoramic life review, euphoria, and an out-of-body experience (OBE).

OBE is defined "as the experience in which a person seems to be awake and to see his body and the world from a location outside the physical body," researchers said.

Scientists from the University of Barcelona in Spain used immersive VR to give volunteers a virtual OBE to see if it could reduce their fear of death. They divided 32 women into two groups who wore virtual reality headsets, movement trackers as well as vibrating wrist and ankle bands.

The volunteers saw a 3D digital environment, as well as a model of their body through their headsets. Matching their virtual body's movements with their own added to what is known as a 'body ownership illusion'. 

Lastly, a floating ball tapped against the volunteer's wrists and ankles in time with a vibration through their wrist and ankle bands, providing one more piece of sensory information to the illusion, 'Science Alert' reported.

The volunteers would then see their viewpoint slip out of their virtual body, towards the ceiling. Half of the volunteers continued to feel the tap of the ball against their ankles and wrists as they watched from above.

The other half acted as the control group and felt nothing, simply watching their body as it was tapped with the floating balls. A follow-up questionnaire probed the volunteers on their experience and their fear of death.

Only those who continued to feel the vibration of the ball tapping against their wrists and ankles felt as if they were still connected to their bodies as their perspective shifted a sensation resembling an out-of-body experience.

These same volunteers also later reported a reduction in their fear of dying. This research was published in the journal PLOS One.

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