Without a doubt, VR is currently one of the hottest, revolutionary technological advancements today. The concept is flashy, from the hardware to the immersive, simulated experience, and if you’ve ever put on a high-quality VR headset, you probably would agree that there’s huge potential for it beyond the entertainment world. Once it becomes more affordable and accessible to the masses, VR will lift off and disrupt commerce, transportation, education – plain and simple, it will completely transform the ways we communicate and interact with one another on a daily basis.

Of all the current applications of VR, the ones that are most striking to me are ones that aid social impact initiatives and improve psychological health because they challenge our worldviews and transform the way we actually experience life.

Social good – you have to see experience it to believe it

We’ve all heard it before: an image is worth a thousand words. But how much more impactful would it be if you actually got to step into the picture and experience it? The immersive experience of VR gives it great storytelling power and has been shown to have long-lasting psychological impact when compared to other forms of media.

Vive’s VR for Impact and Oculus’ VR for Good are among the few VR social initiatives currently driving positive change on a global level. Among the handful of social impact VR experiences, Clouds over Sidra by Within is one that follows a young Syrian refugee in Jordan as she wanders through a refugee camp. Potential donors were able to enter her world and come face-to-face with her reality. As a result, UNICEF was able to raise $3.8 billion for the cause, nearly double the amount they projected (Oculus, 2016).

Living in the city, you sometimes forget about everything that goes on in the rest of the world, both the good and the ugly. I hope that one day, VR will be used more widely as a means to come back to reality and inspire us all to become more aware of the world, feel more appreciative of where we stand and act more selflessly.

 Psychological therapy – rewiring the brain

In addition to effects on social good behavior, VR has been shown to change physical and mental experiences. The following are studies that indicate just how powerful VR has been on human perception:

  • Depression
    • Psychologists and computer scientists at the University of London and University of Barcelona studied the impact of VR on fifteen depression patients. After three weekly sessions, nine of the patients reported reduced depression symptoms, and four experienced a significant drop in the severity of their symptoms. Although the sample is small, the study exhibits the potential for VR to become a regular prescription of mental health therapy.
  • Pain
    • Doctors from the University of Washington, Seattle studied the impact of VR on perceptions of pain. Results showed that VR helped reduce psychological perceptions of burn pain for patients that played a VR game involving snow as opposed to a game about spiders.

These are just a few of the groundbreaking impacts that VR has had. While research still needs to be done around the impact of VR, the possibilities are endless when it comes to the potential positive impact of VR in society.