Virtual reality has been used to treat phobias such as the fear of flying, by making users confront their fears in VR.
But could it be used to deal with the most profound fear of all – our fear of death?
Researchers got 32 volunteers to wear Oculus Rift headsets – and vibration wrist- and ankle-bands so they could ‘feel’ a virtual world.
Then once their brains were ‘fooled’, the perspective would change so they were ‘floating’ above their virtual bodies – like an out-of-body experience.
Volunteers who underwent the strange experience said they had less fear of dying – mirroring the experience of people who have a ‘real’ out-of-body experience.
The researchers say that people who experienced ‘travelling outside their bodies’ did feel less anxious about death.
They wrote, ‘Our idea was that if we could put people in a situation illustrating the possibility of their consciousness being outside of their body, then this would provide implicit evidence (but not necessarily explicit belief) that survival beyond the body is possible, and hence produce a reduction in fear of death.