Self-compassion can be learned using avatars in an immersive virtual reality, finds new research led by UCL. This innovative approach reduced self-criticism and increased self-compassion and feelings of contentment in naturally self-critical individuals. The scientists behind the MRC-funded study say it could be applied to treat a range of clinical conditions including depression. The team of psychologists and computer scientists from UCL, University of Barcelona and University of Derby designed a method to improve people's compassion to themselves, by creating a unique self-to-self situation using avatars and computer gaming technology. Virtual reality has previously been used to treat psychological disorders including phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder but this research focused on a new application for promoting emotional well-being
In the study, 43 healthy but self-critical women experienced a life-size virtual body substituting their own, giving a first person perspective of a virtual room through the eyes of the avatar. The participants were all trained to express compassion towards a distressed virtual child while in their adult virtual body. As they talked to the crying child, it appeared to listen and respond positively to the compassion. After a few minutes, 22 of the participants were then transferred to the virtual child body and from this perspective they saw their original virtual adult body deliver their own compassionate words and gestures to them. The remaining 21 participants observed their original virtual adult body express compassion to the child from a third person perspective. The participants were surveyed for mood, state and personality traits before and after the experiment using verified tests.