Sit down and get wired up.
Sit down and get wired up with the latest sensors and various biofeedback loops.
And then the trip to the internal landscape begins.
At this year’s Transformative Tech Conference at Sofia University in Palo Alto, California, there were several innovative transformative technologies to be seen. One of these was in Virtual Reality.
The experience is created by OpenMind Innovation. OpenMind is a French company proposing a different kind of Virtual Reality experience . OpenMind is calling for the second cognitive revolution, a way to stimulate our neuroplasticity, to make us more intelligent and therefore enjoy a fuller more satisfying life. Jonas Chatel-Goldman, PhD, head of research for OpenMind, explains that theirs is a unique approach, geared to continuously improve through ongoing neuroscientfic research.
Once settled in a comfortable seat, there are three programs one can choose from: one to feel into the breath and heartbeat, another to learn how to manage the two and a third to train stress resistance while in a shooting game in outer space.
The programs belong to a suite of experiences produced to be used in a neuropsychology clinic in Paris France. This clinic will use Virtual Reality to provide mental health services to its clients. Guillaume Victor-Thomas, CEO, states that expansion plans to other cities in France is in the works.
A novel approach? Somewhat. It is similar in its intention to the immersion VR labs used to treat phobias and PTSD (Botella, C. et al., 2015). But it is different in that it uses VR as a tool to treat stress symptoms rather than using its immersive capacities to train oneself out of trauma through repeated exposure. In traditional exposure therapy subjects are able to surmount their phobias and traumas as they develop emotional engagement and acceptance by repeatedly being exposed to the phobia/trauma causing situation (Botella, C. et al., 2015).
OpenMind additionally has a direct feedback loop into the psychometric data generated in the moment. Monitors and sensors are set up so that these measurements of the internal journey can be easily captured. The feedback is then translated visually into an immersive environment. On the backend, there is data collection. Using realtime electroencephalography, galvanic skin response, heart rate and respiration sensors, user data is collected. Nicolas Bassan, the in house psychologist of OpenMind sees the potential for using these measurements for further research in the area of mental health.
In the experience itself, one is surrounded by abstract visuals which symbolically capture your heart beat and breath. The subject thus learns to effectively bring down their heartbeat and calm their breath by following his/her own visually presented physical cues. Instructions are softly suggested when necessary to support the user’s training.
The psychophysiological loop that OpenMind uses to create its experiences is similar to the cycle of awareness training within meditation. As Dr. Josipovic, neuroscience professor at Sofia University and NYU, stated at the 2017 Transformative Tech Conference: there are some interesting psychophysiological changes that occur in the brain with a regular meditation practice. Dr Josipovic’s main area of research deals with the neuroscience of meditation, and one of his main focus areas is the region of the brain called the precuneus. According to his research the precuneus is an area of the brain which is responsible for integration, and is influenced positively through the practice of meditation. When meditating we use the natural feedback loops of the body. Meditation therefore can change our psychophysiology, because of neuroplasticity (Lazar et al, 2014).
We are thus able to produce for ourselves a totally different, deeper life experience with less stress by either using emerging technologies like the OpenMind VR clinic and others, or harnessing the wisdom of ancient traditions on meditation. Or by doing both. The area of emerging tech for mental health has started to harness the developments in AI, VR, data mining, machine learning and more ( see the MIT Technology Review, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608322/the-emerging-science-of-computational-psychiatry/).
Mindfulness has already been successfully integrated into the mainstream culture because of its successes in the field of mental health and for its wide range of psychophysiological applications, such as psoriasis (Kabat-Zinn, et al., 1998).
As Dr Josipovic pointed out, the precuneus is also possibly the area of the brain that grows with self awareness. Self awareness as mentioned earlier seems to have a direct impact on psychosomatic processes and therefore also on stress and anxiety. The cultivation of techniques whether through innovative techniques or through ancient wisdom traditions influences our quality of life directly.
Botella C, Serrano B, Baños RM, Garcia-Palacios A. (2015) Virtual reality exposure-based therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: a review of its efficacy, the adequacy of the treatment protocol, and its acceptability. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 3;11:2533-45. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S89542. eCollection 2015.
Singleton O, Hölzel BK, Vangel M, Brach N, Carmody J and Lazar SW (2014) Change in brainstem gray matter concentration following a mindfulness-based intervention is correlated with improvement in psychological well-being. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:33. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00033
Kabat-Zinn J, Wheeler E, Light T, Skillings A, Scharf M, Cropley T, Hosmer D, Bernhard J. (1998). Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA). Psychosom Med. 60(5):625-32)