MUVE Research – VLENZ Update, No 173, June 08, 2010

1. ‘Turning’ boys into girls, virtually speaking

Transferring body ownership

to  your virtual avatar …

The real Avatar: body transfer turns men into girls – video 85429678001 – life – 13 May 2010 – New Scientist.

Second Lifers or World of Warcrafters, who have become fully immersed in those environments,  would be unlikely to doubt  that one’s sense of self can be highly malleable and that they can easily believe – for  moments at the very least  if not hours – that their avatar, no matter how different in gender, species or age,  is “really” them.

But people, who have  not experienced MUVE immersibility either in a virtual world like Second Life, or a MMORPG  such as World of Warcraft,  might  be very sceptical about the possibility.

However,  researchers at the University of Barcelona, according to the New Scientist, have now shown that, facilitated by a  “young girl body image” view with virtual-reality headset and some brief arm-stroking, men in their mid-20s can react as if the “avatar” body is their own. They feel that way even when they subsequently move outside the girl’s perspective and watch her being attacked.

Professor Mel Slater, who led the team that carried out the experiment,  told  Wendy Zukerman, of the New Scientist, “This is the first experiment to show that body ownership can be transferred to an entirely virtual body.”

Mel Slater

The finding, Zukerman said,  highlighted how far one’s sense of self and body image could be manipulated, and could lead to therapies for conditions of body-image distortion such as anorexia and might be applied to entertainment – to make video games more immersive, for example –and also to psychology.

On average, the men in the experiment reported medium-strength feelings about the girl’s body being their own, and strong feelings that the woman was touching their body: the researchers recorded physical responses such as increased heart rate when the avatar, they were later viewing as a third person, was slapped.

The experiment demonstrated the strong connection the volunteers felt to their new, virtual bodies,  Slater told Zukerman, suggesting that the familiarity of looking down and seeing one’s own body “is so overwhelming” that even dramatic changes in body won’t override the influence of vision.

Slater’s principal areas of research are  in helping to find out what makes virtual reality work for people – in the sense that they can engage with one another in virtual environments, and also interact with virtual characters. His research, the study of ‘presence’ in virtual environments, is also explored in the context of psychotherapy for social phobia and other related applications.

2. Learning to control your nightmares the vid-gaming way

Nightmares - can you control them?

Video “gaming serves some of the same society functions in today’s world as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures” through meditation-like absorption, according to  Professor Jayne Gackenbach,  of Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton, Canada, and Professor Harry T. Hunt, of  Brock University, St Catherines, Canada, in a paper  on “Video Game Play and Lucid Dreaming as Socially Constructed Meditative Absorption”, presented  at the Science of Consciousness Conference.

Gackenbach,  a  psychologist with the Department of Psychology at Grant MacEwan,  who has focused her research  on the effects of technology, especially video game play, on consciousness, believes video gamers learn through gaming to have more lucid dreams than non-gamers, to control  their dreams and nightmares and dull the stresses of real life.

Her research, which  suggests gamers suffer fewer nightmares and are more likely to turn their nightmares into fun, video-game-like challenges, could aid those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, of which nightmares are a common symptom.

Jayne Gackenbach

Noting in their paper that research has shown that video game players report more lucid dreams than those who rarely game,  Gackenbach and Hunt said, “… gaming serves some of the same societal function in today’s youth as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures … these states experienced in gaming are a spontaneous re-engagement with that level of collectivity from a place of our individual conscious isolation in highly differentiated and pluralistic modern culture.

“… It appears that gaming adds a dimension to the lucid dreams of gamers such that their full potential for focused problem solving is expressed very much like the strategies of video gaming. The enhanced bizarreness of lucid-gamer associated dreams may also serve as a trigger for the emergence of their increased lucidity. The exotic-mythic element of the lucid bizarre dreams of gamers (Gackenbach et al, in press) is similar to previous research on the archetypal content in dreams (Hunt, 1989).”

By comparing the lucid versus non-lucid dreams of gamers, Gackenbach and Hunt concluded that lucidity in gamer’s dreams emphasised the already generally positive dream experience of being lucid in sleep, including the enhanced aggression which facilitated the sense of empowerment also typical in video-game playing. Not only is there more lucidity in gamer’s dreams, but that lucidity seems to be further enhanced by the gaming experience.

“To be absorbed in consciousness, be it in lucid dreams, intense fantasy or meditation is also to be absorbed in the social field more deeply than is available in ordinary consciousness,” they argued. “Since consciousness itself is collective already, and the high absorber is entering the level provided in traditional times by externalised ritual and myth, gaming offers those in contemporary western individualistic society much the same function.

“Specifically it is an externalised absorptive consciousness with provided patterns that are accordingly socially structured, simultaneously shared, and so offering some of the support of tribal societies, which individual high absorbers in the west have lost in their only ostensibly “private” lucid dreams and meditations,” they said.

Gackenbach’s research and views on dreaming,  which  she presented recently at two gaming conferences, Games for Health and Canadian Game Studies, have gone viral on the net with good reason. They are an important adjunct to explaining the ways MUVES – whether in video-gaming or virtual on-line environments – can work in changing both perceptions and  people’s lives and how they can be used.

Harry T. Hunt

Dreams and video games both represent alternate realities,she told LiveScience Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu, noting, however, that dreams arise biologically from the human mind, while video games are technologically driven by computers and gaming consoles.

“If you’re spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it’s practice,” she said. “Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.”

On the question of mastering nightmares,  Gackenbach conducted a 2008 study with 35 males and 63 females, which found that gamers experienced less or even reversed threat simulation (in which the dreamer became the threatening presence), with fewer aggression dreams overall.

“What happens with gamers is that something inexplicable happens,” Gackenbach explained. “They don’t run away, they turn and fight back. They’re more aggressive than the norms.”

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The SLENZ Update – No 123, August 07, 2009

THE COUCH IN THE COMPUTER

Virtual psychology, therapy

to get own  OLIVE world

InWorld

Using the On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment (OLIVE™) virtual world platform from Forterra Systems, InWorld Solutions™, of Palo Alta, California,  has developed a virtual world specifically designed for behavioral healthcare.

Created for use by clinical institutions and individual therapists, the online application, InWorld, has been designed to  overcome emotional and cognitive barriers to therapy, counseling, and education by engaging clients and mobilising their active participation.

Like health and medical applications in Second Life, InWorld can also be used for therapist training and supervision. Although in a different virtual world it will join a number of pioneering medical training and health care applications being run in Second Life such as  the SLENZ Project’s midwifery education pilot program being run by  Otago Polytechnic,  Auckland University’s Virtual Medical Centre,  and  a myriad of other universities and organisations around the world who are doing pioneering medical and healthcare work in  MUVEs.

The InWorld application was scheduled  to be unveiled in Toronto, Canada,  today, Friday,  at an American Psychological Association (APA)  117th Annual Convention  plenary session entitled Next Stop: Virtual Psychology and Therapy.

“We founded InWorld Solutions to bring new technology to the field of behavioral healthcare,” said InWorld Solutions co-founder and CEO Walter Greenleaf, a pioneer in medical virtual environments and a Stanford University-trained research scientist specialising in behavioral neuroscience and cognitive rehabilitation.

“I’m excited about the convergence of several technical and social trends that enable us to provide InWorld today: the advancement of virtual environment technology, the penetration of broadband Internet, the affordability of computing power, and the growing adoption of virtual worlds,” he added.

Les Paschall, InWorld Solutions co-founder and CEO of CFG Health Systems, a 450-clinician behavioral healthcare provider in Marlton, New Jersey, said, “The potential demand for this kind of program is enormous. InWorld is designed to manage a wide range of disorders, and we’re seeing unprecedented levels of engagement and participation in our first use with clients who suffer from oppositional defiance disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as patients dealing with issues of anger management and substance abuse.”

The pair claimed that  InWorld is the first and only product to offer therapists a complete solution by combining a virtual world with important clinical functions such as session notes, appointment calendar, clinical illustrations, a clinical manual, and the management of avatars, the personalized characters used by therapists and their clients.

Complements traditional therapy

Interactions use speech, so keyboard skills are not required. Sessions are recorded and can be saved for review and playback from different viewing perspectives.

It complements traditional talk therapy, helping the therapeutic process to go deeper and progress more rapidly for individual, family, and group therapy. In addition, InWorld can increase access to behavioral healthcare by allowing therapists and clients to meet in the same or different locations.

It was first used in residential care facilities for teens more than two years ago and was found to be a successful treatment option, making it possible to engage patients in the therapeutic process in ways that not only enable therapy, but facilitate faster progress.

In every setting where it has been used, clinicians and patients have reported, according to the company, that it is an important addition to the tools available for the management and treatment of behavioral health.

InWorld, which runs on the Windows operating system and requires broadband Internet access, will be available for download from the InWorld Solutions website in October 2009 at an introductory subscription-based pricing of  US$95 per month per clinician.

See also:  Use of Virtual Environments in Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and  here.

inworld2