Virtual Reality may help cure neurological disorders such as autism, schizophrenia: Study

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A new study claims that playing games in virtual reality may help treat neurological disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. The technology could help patients shift their perspective of time, which their conditions do not allow them otherwise, as described in the journal Scientific Reports.

“The ability to estimate the passage of time with precision is fundamental to our ability to interact with the world,” said Seamas Weech, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “For some individuals, however, the internal clock is maladjusted, causing timing deficiencies that affect perception and action,” Weech said in a statement.

With the study, researchers are aiming to understand the cause of such deficiencies as well as the ways to recalibrate time perception in the brain. The study involved 18 females and 13 males with normal vision and no sensory, musculoskeletal or neurological disorders. A virtual reality game, Robo Recall, was used by the researchers in order to create a natural setting in which they could encourage re-calibration of the perception of time.

The researchers calibrated the speed and duration of visual elements according to the body movements of the participants and used the session to measure the participant’s time perception before and after the dynamic VR task. Some of the participants were also tasked to non-VR time-perception sessions, such as throwing a ball to use a control comparison. The team measured the actual and perceived duration of moving a probe in the time perception tasks. The virtual reality manipulation was found to be associated with significant reductions in the participants’ estimates of time, by around 15 percent.

“This study adds valuable proof that the perception of time is flexible, and that VR offers a potentially valuable tool for recalibrating time in the brain,” said Weech. “It offers a compelling application for rehabilitation initiatives that focus on how time perception breaks down in certain populations,” he said.

While the research suggested strong results, there are more researches needed in order to determine the long term effects, and whether these signals can be observed in the brain, said Weech.

“For developing clinical applications, we need to know whether these effects are stable for minutes, days, or weeks afterward. A longitudinal study would provide the answer to this question,” he added.

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