Virtual Reality Interaction Improves Mood in People With Dementia

A new study sought to determine whether Virtual Reality Forest (VRF) interaction could impact engagement, apathy, and mood states of 10 people with dementia living in an aged cared facility. Participants were found to experience more alertness and pleasure during the VRF interaction; however, fear and anxiety were also increased when compared with a control group. Participants, family members, and staff expressed generally positive opinions about the VRF interaction. “This study suggests virtual reality may have the potential to improve quality of life, and the outcomes can be used to inform the development of future Virtual Reality activities for people with dementia,” the authors conclude.

Moyle W, Jones C, Dwan T, et al. Effectiveness of a Virtual Reality Forest on People With Dementia: A Mixed Methods Pilot Study. Gerontologist. 2017.

Observing Costly Altruism in a Virtual Environment

From VR Medicine News–A new study sought to determine neuroanatomical correlates of costly altruism using VR technology. Participants were immersed in a virtual environment where another individual was in danger. Those participants who risked their own lives to save the endangered virtual individuals were found to have a larger right anterior insula than those who did not. The same participants were also found to have a higher level of empathetic concern toward the endangered virtual persons. “These findings add to the growing literature showing the role of caring motivation in promoting altruism and prosociality and its neural correlates in the right anterior insula,” the authors conclude.

Patil I, Zanon M, Novembre G, Zangrando N, Chittaro L, Silani G. Neuroanatomical basis of concern-based altruism in virtual environment. Neuropsychologia. 2017;1-10.

VREX: an Open-Source Toolbox for Creating 3D VR Experiments

From VR Medicine News–The authors present VREX, a free open-source Unity toolbox for VR research in experimental psychology and neuroscience. Using VREX, researchers can create a series of interconnected virtual rooms. These rooms can be furnished and customized to suit the experimental question being tested. Rooms and environments can be combined to perform end-to-end experiments. “VREX simplifies the generation and setup of complicated VR scenes and experiments for researchers,” the authors note. VREX can be downloaded from

Vasser M, Kängsepp M, Magomedkerimov M, et al. VREX: an open-source toolbox for creating 3D virtual reality experiments. BMC Psychol. 2017;5(1):4.

VR Tests Effective in Measuring Alzheimer’s-Related Cognition Problems

From VR Medicine News–UK-based researchers have proposed novel Alzheimer’s screening tests based on virtual environments and game principles involving VR. Patients and healthy adults participated in a comparative study of four different tests that measured various aspects of cognition. “The results show the capacity of the new tests to distinguish healthy people from Alzheimer’s patients,” the authors conclude.

Montenegro JM, Argyriou V. Cognitive Evaluation for the Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease based on Turing Test and Virtual Environments. Physiol Behav. 2017 Jan 27. pii: S0031-9384(17)30026-30024.

VR in Mental Health — A Review Article.

A free full text article in Frontiers in Psychiatry reviews serious games and gamification as they apply to mental health. The authors discuss 6 major categories: exergames, virtual reality, cognitive behavior therapy-based games, entertainment games, biofeedback, and cognitive training games.

Fleming TM, Bavin L, Stasiak K, et al. Serious Games and Gamification for Mental Health: Current Status and Promising Directions. Front Psychiatry. 2017 Jan 10;7:215. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00215.


Adaptive VR System Being Tested in Autism

From VR Medicine News–Researchers, working with autistic children, have developed a novel VR-based interactive system using anxiety-sensitive adaptive technology. Specifically, the system uses real-time biomarkers to measure anxiety level and then adapts its response to help improve communication skills. The current study is a “proof of concept,” but the authors suggest that the system could serve “as a potent complementary tool in the hands of [a] therapist.

Kuriakose S, Lahiri U. Design of a Physiology-sensitive VR-based Social Communication Platform for Children with Autism. IEEE Trans Neural Syst Rehabil Eng. 2016 Sep 27. doi: 10.1109/TNSRE.2016.2613879.

Study Will Use VR to Measure Visual Vertigo

From VR Medicine News —  A clinical study is underway in the UK to investigate the use of virtual environments presented on a head mounted display for the rehabilitation of those suffering with visual vertigo. About 18 participants will be recruited. Participants will be treated over several weeks with a virtual environment with fast moving objects  in a  beach/park environment. Controls will be given a similar environment with static objects.

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VR Used to Help Simulate Brain Effects of Long-term Driving

Brain activity during long term driving fatigue simulated with Semi-immersive virtual reality technology was measured with functional near-infrared spectroscopy. The researchers, based in China, found that progressive mental fatigue had an adverse effect on cognitive function in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), and the interaction between the PFC and the motor cortex. Why it’s relevant: shows how VR can be useful in recreating environments for brain physiology research.

Xu L, Wang B, Xu G, Wang W, Liu Z, Li Z. Functional connectivity analysis using fNIRS in healthy subjects during prolonged simulated driving. Neurosci Lett. 2017 Jan 10;640:21-28. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2017.01.018.

Studies Investigate Tactile Information in VR

Two studies published today relate to the topic of tactile sensation in VR. One study, published in Scientific Reports – Nature, evaluates the relationship between touch and emotion.1 While it’s been known that emotions can affect touch processing within an individual, it’s not been understood how a toucher’s emotional expressions, such as anger, happiness, fear and sadness, can influence touch perception in the person being touched. Participants were presented with tactile stimulation appearing to originate from expressive characters in virtual reality and researchers measured participants’ somatosensory evoked potentials. “The findings show that not only does touch affect emotion, but also emotional expressions affect touch perception,” the researchers conclude.

In a second study researchers investigated the qualitative characteristics of dual-frequency compared to single-frequency vibrations and the perception of distance between the two types of vibrations in hands.2 There were differences between the two types of vibrations, suggesting how tactile information can be more realistically transferred in a VR setting. “These results are expected to provide a fundamental understanding about the perception of complex vibrations to enrich the transfer of information using vibrotactile stimuli,” the authors note.

Why it’s relevant: understanding sensory information is central for creating realistic environments in VR.

1. Ravaja N, Harjunen V, Ahmed I, Jacucci G, Spapé MM. Feeling Touched: Emotional Modulation of Somatosensory Potentials to Interpersonal Touch. Sci Rep. 2017;7:40504. doi: 10.1038/srep40504.
2. Hwang I, Seo J, Choi S. Perceptual Space of Superimposed Dual-Frequency Vibrations in the Hands. PLoS One. 2017;12(1):e0169570. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169570.