Special Issue "Virtual Reality in the Assessment, Understanding and Treatment of Mental Health Disorders"

A special issue of Journal of Clinical Medicine (ISSN 2077-0383). This special issue belongs to the section "Pathergasiology & Psychology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2019.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Giuseppe Riva
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
1. Department of Psychology, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy
2. Applied Technology for Neuro-Psychology Lab., Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Milan, Italy
Interests: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Multisensory Integration; Presence, Body Experience, Embodied Medicine, Interoception, Sonoception
Dr. Silvia Serino
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
MySpace Lab, Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University Hospital Lausanne (CHUV)
Interests: Virtual Reality, Embodied Cognition, Mental Health, Bodily Self-Consciousness, Spatial Cognition, Body Representation, Self-awareness

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In the computer sciences, virtual reality (VR) is usually described as a set of fancy technologies. However, in medicine and neuroscience, VR is instead defined as an advanced form of human–computer interface that allows the user to interact with and become present in a computer-generated environment. The sense of presence offered by VR is be a powerful tool for personal change because it offers a world where the individual can stay and live a specific experience. For this reason, the use of VR in mental health shows promise: different researches support its clinical efficacy for conditions including anxiety disorders, stress-related disorders, obesity and eating disorders, pain management, addiction and schizophrenia. However, more research is needed to transform VR according to a clinical standard for mental health. This Special Issue aims to present the most recent advances in the mental health applications of VR, as well as their implications for future patient care.

Prof. Dr. Giuseppe Riva
Dr. Silvia Serino
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Journal of Clinical Medicine is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

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Keywords

  • Virtual Reality
  • Mental Health
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Pain Management
  • Addiction
  • Schizophrenia

Published Papers (5 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
The Effect of a Virtual-Reality Full-Body Illusion on Body Representation in Obesity
J. Clin. Med. 2019, 8(9), 1330; https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8091330 - 28 Aug 2019
Abstract
Background. The effective illusory ownership over an artificial body in modulating body representations in healthy and eating disorders population has been repeatedly reported in recent literature. In this study, we extended this research in the field of obesity: specifically, we investigated whether [...] Read more.
Background. The effective illusory ownership over an artificial body in modulating body representations in healthy and eating disorders population has been repeatedly reported in recent literature. In this study, we extended this research in the field of obesity: specifically, we investigated whether ownership over a virtual body with a skinny abdomen might be successfully experienced by participants affected by obesity. Methods. Fifteen participants with obesity and fifteen healthy-weight participants took part at this study in which the VR-Full-Body Illusion was adopted. The strength of illusion was investigated through the traditional Embodiment Questionnaire, while changes in bodily experience were measured through a body size estimation task. Results. Participants with obesity as well as healthy-weight participants reported to experience the illusion. About the body size estimation task, both groups reported changes only in the estimation of the abdomen’s circumference after the experimental condition, in absence of any another difference. Discussion. Participants with obesity reported to experience the illusion over a skinny avatar, but the modulation of the bodily experience seems controversial. Future lines of research exploiting this technique for modulating body representations in obesity, specifically in terms of potential therapeutic use, were discussed. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Is This My Own Body? Changing the Perceptual and Affective Body Image Experience among College Students Using a New Virtual Reality Embodiment-Based Technique
J. Clin. Med. 2019, 8(7), 925; https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8070925 - 27 Jun 2019
Abstract
Body image disturbances (BIDs) have been widely studied using virtual reality (VR) devices that induce a full body illusion (FBI) and allow manipulation of the individual’s perceptual and affective experiences of the body. This study aimed to assess whether the induction of the [...] Read more.
Body image disturbances (BIDs) have been widely studied using virtual reality (VR) devices that induce a full body illusion (FBI) and allow manipulation of the individual’s perceptual and affective experiences of the body. This study aimed to assess whether the induction of the FBI over a virtual body would produce changes in body-related anxiety and BIDs using a new whole-body visuo-tactile stimulation procedure. Fifty non-clinical participants were randomly assigned to synchronous or asynchronous visuo-tactile groups. During the pre-assessment, all participants filled in BIDs and body-anxiety questionnaires. Then, they were embodied into two virtual bodies (VBs): firstly, with their real measurements, and secondly, with a larger-size body. Body image disturbances, body anxiety, fear of gaining weight, and FBI levels were assessed after exposure to each avatar. All participants in both conditions showed higher levels of BIDs and body anxiety after owning the larger-size VB than after owning the real-size VB (p < 0.05). The synchronous visuo-tactile group had higher scores, although the differences did not reach statistical significance. This study provides evidence of the usefulness of this new embodiment-based technique to induce changes in BIDs or body anxiety in a non-clinical sample, being suitable for use in future body image interventions. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Exposure to a Standardized Catastrophic Scenario in Virtual Reality or a Personalized Scenario in Imagination for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
J. Clin. Med. 2019, 8(3), 309; https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8030309 - 05 Mar 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
The cognitive behavioral treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) often involves exposing patients to a catastrophic scenario depicting their most feared worry. The aim of this study was to examine whether a standardized scenario recreated in virtual reality (VR) would elicit anxiety and [...] Read more.
The cognitive behavioral treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) often involves exposing patients to a catastrophic scenario depicting their most feared worry. The aim of this study was to examine whether a standardized scenario recreated in virtual reality (VR) would elicit anxiety and negative affect and how it compared to the traditional method of imagining a personalized catastrophic scenario. A sample of 28 participants were first exposed to a neutral non-catastrophic scenario and then to a personalized scenario in imagination or a standardized virtual scenario presented in a counterbalanced order. The participants completed questionnaires before and after each immersion. The results suggest that the standardized virtual scenario induced significant anxiety. No difference was found when comparing exposure to the standardized scenario in VR and exposure to the personalized scenario in imagination. These findings were specific to anxiety and not to the broader measure of negative affect. Individual differences in susceptibility to feel present in VR was a significant predictor of increase in anxiety and negative affect. Future research could use these scenarios to conduct a randomized control trial to test the efficacy and cost/benefits of using VR in the treatment of GAD. Full article
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Review

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Open AccessReview
Neurorehabilitation of Spatial Memory Using Virtual Environments: A Systematic Review
J. Clin. Med. 2019, 8(10), 1516; https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8101516 - 20 Sep 2019
Abstract
In recent years, virtual reality (VR) technologies have become widely used in clinical settings because they offer impressive opportunities for neurorehabilitation of different cognitive deficits. Specifically, virtual environments (VEs) have ideal characteristics for navigational training aimed at rehabilitating spatial memory. A systematic search, [...] Read more.
In recent years, virtual reality (VR) technologies have become widely used in clinical settings because they offer impressive opportunities for neurorehabilitation of different cognitive deficits. Specifically, virtual environments (VEs) have ideal characteristics for navigational training aimed at rehabilitating spatial memory. A systematic search, following PRISMA guidelines, was carried out to explore the current scenario in neurorehabilitation of spatial memory using virtual reality. The literature on this topic was queried, 5048 papers were screened, and 16 studies were included, covering patients presenting different neuropsychological diseases. Our findings highlight the potential of the navigational task in virtual environments (VEs) for enhancing navigation and orientation abilities in patients with spatial memory disorders. The results are promising and suggest that VR training can facilitate neurorehabilitation, promoting brain plasticity processes. An overview of how VR-based training has been implemented is crucial for using these tools in clinical settings. Hence, in the current manuscript, we have critically debated the structure and the length of training protocols, as well as a different type of exploration through VR devices with different degrees of immersion. Furthermore, we analyzed and highlighted the crucial role played by the selection of the assessment tools. Full article
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Open AccessReview
Virtual Enactment Effect on Memory in Young and Aged Populations: A Systematic Review
J. Clin. Med. 2019, 8(5), 620; https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8050620 - 07 May 2019
Abstract
Background: Spatial cognition is a critical aspect of episodic memory, as it provides the scaffold for events and enables successful retrieval. Virtual enactment (sensorimotor and cognitive interaction) by means of input devices within virtual environments provides an excellent opportunity to enhance encoding and [...] Read more.
Background: Spatial cognition is a critical aspect of episodic memory, as it provides the scaffold for events and enables successful retrieval. Virtual enactment (sensorimotor and cognitive interaction) by means of input devices within virtual environments provides an excellent opportunity to enhance encoding and to support memory retrieval with useful traces in the brain compared to passive observation. Methods: We conducted a systematic review with Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) guidelines concerning the virtual enactment effect on spatial and episodic memory in young and aged populations. We aim at giving guidelines for virtual enactment studies, especially in the context of aging, where spatial and episodic memory decline. Results: Our findings reveal a positive effect on spatial and episodic memory in the young population and promising outcomes in aging. Several cognitive factors (e.g., executive function, decision-making, and visual components) mediate memory performances. Findings should be taken into account for future interventions in aging. Conclusions: The present review sheds light on the key role of the sensorimotor and cognitive systems for memory rehabilitation by means of a more ecological tool such as virtual reality and stresses the importance of the body for cognition, endorsing the view of an embodied mind. Full article
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