Fear of Heights

Engaging, interactive, and automated virtual reality (VR) treatments might help solve the unmet needs of individuals with mental health disorders. We tested the efficacy of an automated cognitive intervention for fear of heights guided by an avatar virtual coach (animated using motion and voice capture of an actor) in VR and delivered with the latest consumer equipment.

Together with our collaborators we designed and executed an immersive VR application that can help people face their fear. Just by putting on the headset one is transported into immersive situations carefully making one navigate through levels of varying difficulty making them come face to face with their phobia. The experience is designed in a way such that the user is willing to take risks and engage with situation that he/she is uncomfortable with and is immediately able to apply their new confidence to real life. The development of this project was a beautiful challenge for the Virtual Bodyworks team and each exercise was designed being mindful of the state and progress of the patient.

The results and research behind this application have been published in a landmark paper in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Mental health disorders are very common and encompass great personal and societal costs, but far too few people receive the best treatments.

Immersive virtual reality (VR) has the potential to substantially increase access to the best psychological interventions. First, treatments can be automated and provided in VR, so a therapist does not need to be present. Automated treatment delivered using VR consumer hardware could become a low-cost way of providing effective interventions at scale. Moreover the game like quality of navigating throughout therapy will encourage more people to opt for VR treatment compare to a traditional one.

Virtual Bodyworks was involved in the project since its conceptualisation, and was responsible for all technical development, including programming, motion capture, audio recording and the overall experience.