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Subsidy for UMCG research into VR exercises for more self-compassion

18 March 2021

The UMCG has received a subsidy of €65,000 from the educational institute PPO. With these funds, treatment psychologist and postdoc researcher Elise van der Stouwe, together with Wim Veling and Marieke Pijnenborg, will begin a study into the effects and working mechanisms of a new virtual reality application for more self-compassion.

Too much self-criticism is a psychological factor that can play a role in the occurrence and progress of psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and various disorders. It can also lead to treatment having less of an effect. In addition, it appears that more understanding for oneself (self-compassion) contributes to the resilience and recovery of patients. A large group of patients would therefore be significantly availed by innovative technologies and interventions focused on self-criticism and self-compassion.

Virtual reality applications

Virtual reality (VR) is an innovative technology that can have high added value for psychological treatments. In the areas of self-criticism and self-compassion, VR also appears to be able to work well. In this study, the researchers will explore the effect of two new VR exercises. They will map out whether these exercises contribute to the participant having more understanding for themselves. In addition, they want to find out whether the possibility of changing perspectives in a VR exercise has added value.

Double standards

People with a lot of self-criticism often apply different standards to themselves than they do to others. They are stricter and more critical towards themselves than towards others. In a VR role-play situation, someone can explore what their response would be if a friend had the same negative thoughts about themselves. The effect of this response is also strengthened because VR offers the possibility to change perspectives.

Discussions with critics

In the second VR exercise, the participant chooses a virtual person who expresses their own self-criticism. By dismantling this criticism or by discussing it, the participant can develop a more nuanced self-image with more self-compassion. It is also possible to change perspectives hereafter, which can strengthen the increase in self-compassion and the decrease in self-criticism.

Perspective-changing technology

Changing perspectives is a relatively new technology within VR that can be of added value for psychological treatments. In VR, it is possible to restart a completed role-play situation from the beginning, through which the participant can experience themselves from the perspective of another person. In role-play situations within existing psychological treatment, this is not possible.

The study will take three-and-a-half years.

Last modified:06 April 2021 3.31 p.m.
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