OBE is out-of-body experience which occasionally happens during clinical deaths. New testing and research have shown that this near death experience significantly reduces the human’s primal fear of death. Scientist tested this by using a virtual reality method.
Although it seems unethical, it is not the first time that scientists using virtual reality to confront people with their own demons. During the middle of the 90s scientist tested participants to deal with arachnophobia and to deal with the fear of heights. After many reports of patients who were in clinical death and their claims that they have had out of the body experiences, which brought them peace and chased away the fear of death, scientists decided to test it.
Researchers from the University of Barcelona in Spain used immersive VR to give volunteers a virtual out-of-body experience to see if it could reduce their fear of death.
A volunteer team of 32 women suited with Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets seated on the chair, while trackers and vibrators were attached to their ankles. The volunteers could see a 3D digital environment, as well as a model of their body through their headsets. First, they explored and described the virtual environment. Then the virtual balls appeared corresponding with vibrators on their ankles. Participants have the sensation that balls touch their body. At the certain point, volunteer moves out of the virtual body. Half of them, lose the control of movements of the body. The other half acted as the control group and felt nothing, simply watching their body as it was tapped with the floating balls.
Finally, the control group reported their fear of death to be 3 out of the 7, and those who have the sensation of OBE reported slightly less fear – 2.5 out of 7.
Of course, the study relies on the too small test sample, but the researchers believed that their results open up the possibility that the virtual OBE experience provides an implicit learning that consciousness in the sense of the center of perception can be separate from the physical body. Therefore the death of the physical body isn’t necessarily the end of consciousness.
Regardless the ethical questions, virtual reality is a potentially great advance for psychotherapy, especially for treating phobias.