Virtual reality can allow you to play any character of your choosing, in all manner of fantastical environs. But a new VR experiment offers another experience youd never be able to pull off IRL: talking to yourself. And having that one-on-one chat with yourself could help you feel more compassion for yourself.
For a study published in PLOS One, researchers had 43 women who were highly self-critical put themselves in this scenario. Using an Oculus Rift, the participants first had to comfort a crying child using a set speech, as you can see in the video below. The child stops crying.
Then, things get weird: One group of the participants find themselves in the place of the child avatar. They then see their earlier avatar play back the compassionate words theyd just given to the child. Except now, they are the child, so theyre basically comforting themselves.
This specific experiment was to find a way to use virtual reality to allow people who found it difficult to give compassion to themselves to actually give themselves compassion, said co-author Mel Slater, professor of virtual environments at University College London and a research professor at the University of Barcelona.
“Things get weird: One group of the participants [found] themselves in the place of the child avatar”
Its more about the listening than the talking; in their paper, the researchers point out that self-criticism has been linked to depression, especially in women—hence the female participants.
Caroline Falconer, a psychologist at UCL who also worked on the study, said the idea came out of the work of coauthor Paul Gilbert, who developed the idea of compassion-focused therapy to cultivate self-compassion.
We know that people who are particularly high in compassion for other people and also self-compassion are better able to cope in the face of stress, negative live events, and low mood, she said. Self-compassion is sort of a natural buffer to these things.
In the experiment, another group of participants had the same experience of comforting the child avatar but then watched their actions from a third-person perspective, rather than through the childs digital eyes. While this group still benefited from the experience of giving and observing the passionate behaviour, the researchers found that those who experienced their own comforting words from a first-hand perspective also saw an increase in self-compassion.