Patients wore a virtual reality headset to see fromthe perspective of a life-size 'avatar' or virtual body. Seeing this virtual body in a mirror moving in thesame way as their own body typically produces theillusion that this is their own body. This is called'embodiment'.
While embodied in an adult avatar, participants were trained to express compassiontowards a distressed virtual child.
As they talked to the child it appeared to gradually stop crying and respond positively tothe compassion.
After a few minutes the patients were embodied in the virtual child and saw the adultavatar deliver their own compassionate words and gestures to them.
This brief eight-minute scenario was repeated three times at weekly intervals, and patientswere followed up a month later. Of the 15 participants, nine reported reduced depressivesymptoms a month after the therapy.
Virtual reality has also previously been used to treat psychological disorders includingphobias and post-traumatic stress disorder, but this research focused on a new applicationfor promoting emotional well-being.