Virtual reality activates brain networks that increase your ability to identify with other people, say researchers, adding that, the technology could become a tool in the treatment of violent offenders to empathise more with others.
Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Applications of virtual reality can include entertainment and educational purposes. Other, distinct types of VR style technology include augmented reality and mixed reality.
According to the study, published in the journal eNeuro, understanding someone's point of view is crucial for successful relationships. When this doesn't come naturally, virtual reality technology may be able to help the process.
"A first-person perspective virtual reality experience providing multi-sensory feedback can coax the brain into thinking a virtual body is its own body. This causes the brain to react to virtual events as if they are happening in the real world," said study researchers from University College London in the UK.
For the findings, the research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor the brain activity of participants while they experienced a virtual reality animation of a man verbally abusing a woman, from the perspective of the woman.
Before watching the scene, the participants went through virtual reality training embodied as the woman or as a bystander watching the woman.
People experiencing the first-person embodiment identified the woman's body as their own and demonstrated synchronized brain activity in the personal space and body ownership networks.
They also showed strong synchronized activity in parts of the brain processing threat perception when the man got close, the researchers said.
"Using a combination of virtual reality and functional magnetic resonance imaging, our work reveals how first-person perspective embodiment increases identification with the virtual victim during the experience of domestic abuse," the researchers noted.