So after reading Kelsey’s post I was more interested in the fear circuitry. And then it just happened to fall into my lap after reading the New York Times that scientists are using what they token as “cybertherapy” to help ease phobias, social challenges, to gain insight into how people are affected by interactions. Researchers are populating digital worlds with autonomous, virtual humans that can evoke the same tensions as in real-life encounters. People with social anxiety are struck dumb when asked questions by a virtual stranger. Heavy drinkers feel strong urges to order something from a virtual bartender, while gamblers are drawn to sit down and join a group playing on virtual slot machines. And therapists can tell patients at the very moment those sensations are felt.
So researchers have used this therapy and have shown that people internalize these virtual experiences and their responses to them — with effects that carry over into real life. Both the Canadian and U.S. army has used cybertherapy for training officers and treating post-traumatic stress reactions.
I read through a number of studies about this line of healing and my opinion is it’s essentially a good way for psychiatrists to get to the root of phobias or anxiety. It’s essentially a way to face a fear without actually facing it. Also I found it really interesting that patients receiving this treatment want to know where it is coming from and are more open to confess more of their personal flaws, fears and fantasies to virtual figures than to live therapists conducting video interviews.