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Virtual reality might be a useful tool for treating autism

Latest research suggests that participating in virtual reality games can prove quite beneficial in the treatment of people suffering from neurological diseases such as schizophrenia, autism and Parkinson’s disease.

According to a recently concluded study at the University of Waterloo, virtual reality can be of help to individuals who are afflicted by neurological disorders. The technology aids in modifying time perception, as it is an area where these people struggle.

Séamas Weech, a post-doctoral fellow in Kinesiology and co-author of the study, remarked that correctly assuming the passage of time is one of the most important abilities required by people to interact with the world. He elaborated that some people face major issues when this internal clock gets wrongly adjusted, giving way to faulty time perception and action.

VR is an educational tool that serves a bigger purpose. Credit to: wareable.com

Weech commented that studies similar to the one they have conducted throw light on how people gain the deficiencies, and also regarding how the human brain’s time perception can be readjusted.

The study conducted by the University of Waterloo saw the participation of 13 males and 18 females who possessed normal vision and did not have any form of neurological, sensory or musculoskeletal conditions. Robo Recall, a virtual reality game, was used by the researchers to form a real-life setting within which the re-calibration of time perception was encouraged. The study was calibrated with the researchers coupling the duration and speed of visual events to the movements of a participant’s body.

The time perception abilities of participants were measured by the researchers prior to and after they had undergone the VR experience. Apart from the virtual reality experience, some of the study participants also had to participate in time perception tasks that did not involve VR technology. An example of one such activity includes throwing a ball. The VR and non-VR tasks were conducted to draw comparisons.

The researchers gauged the perceived and actual timings of movements involved in the time perception experiments. The findings suggested that the virtual reality-based modification was related to about 15% reduction in time estimates of the participants, which is a significant value to consider.

The study proved that time perception is flexible in nature. It was also evident that virtual reality is a potentially powerful tool for brain time perception recalibration.- Séamas Weech

Weech elaborated that the findings suggest how VR can be used for rehabilitation processes that are centred around how time perception malfunctions among various population groups.

Weech also revealed that the effects of virtual reality were quite pronounced during the current study. He admitted that additional research needed to be conducted to find the probable duration of the positive effects, and also to ascertain that the signals produced can be observed within the brain.

Michael Barnett-Cowan, neuroscience professor in the Department of Kinesiology, is also the senior author of the study. He expressed that VR developments were quite dramatic and the technology form can be utilised for enhancing understanding regarding perception.

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