Virtual Reality (VR) is a new and an exciting way of interaction with computers. With the recent developments in the VR technology, we are now able to experience it in our own living arrangements (e.g., Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Gear VR).

In recent years, researchers have discovered that training with VR technology enhances individuals’ skills in various disciplines including aviation and medicine. Sports is another field that VR can be widely used to train athletes. However, despite the fact that training with VR has many positive effects, why it is beneficial is yet to be discovered.

A study published by Maria Matsangidou and her colleagues from the University of Kent tested whether the reason VR is a practical solution in pain management can be attributed to the awareness of internal body sensations, also known as private body consciousness (PBC). Researchers tested 80 individuals while they performed bicep curl set. The dumbbells were set to 20% less than the maximum weight the participants could lift. Half of the participants were experimented with a VR set and viewed their body from the first-person perspective with the dumbbells in the virtual environment which was basically the replication of the real one. The other half, non-VR-group, did not wear a VR set. Both groups lifted the same weighed dumbbells.

Study results revealed that VR-group reported 10% less pain intensity than the non-VR group. Moreover, PBC was not a significant factor affecting pain perception during the VR session. Since previous studies showed that individuals with high PBC are more sensitive to pain perception, Matsangidou’s work is important in terms of documenting PBC’s interaction with VR. Results highlighted that having higher PBC, higher pain perception, is not active in VR as much as in real world.

These findings have implications for individuals who are more sensitive to pain. People who are sensitive to pain can be encouraged to become more active in sports activities using VR sets. Besides, professional athletes can be trained more effectively with the help of this promising technology.

Further Reading

Bekker, M. H., Croon, M. A., van Balkom, E. G., & Vermee, J. B. (2008). Predicting individual differences in autonomy-connectedness: The role of body awareness, alexithymia, and assertiveness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64(6), 747–765.

Ferguson, R. J., & Ahles, T. A. (1998). Private body consciousness, anxiety and pain symptom reports of chronic pain patients. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 36 (5), 527–535.

Matsangidou, M., Ang, C. S., Mauger, A. R., Intarasirisawat, J., Otkhmezuri, B., & Avraamides, M. N. (2019). Is your virtual self as sensational as your real? Virtual Reality: The effect of body consciousness on the experience of exercise sensations. Psychology of Sport and Exercise41, 218-224.

Seymour, N. E., Gallagher, A. G., Roman, S. A., O’Brien, M. K., Bansal, V. K., Andersen, D. K., & Satava, R. M. (2002). Virtual reality training improves operating room performance: results of a randomized, double-blinded study. Annals of surgery236(4), 458.

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