Immersion is the goal of virtual reality, but the effects of spending time in virtual worlds on the human brain are still largely unknown.
Now, researchers Carina Peckmann, Kyra Kannen, Max C. Pensel, Silke Lux, Alexandra Philipsen, and Niclas Braun have published a new study that links the use of virtual reality with the symptoms of depersonalization and derealization (DPDR).
Entitled Virtual reality induces symptoms of depersonalization and derealization: A longitudinal randomised control trial, the new study is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, and it is based on a longitudinal randomised control trial involving 80 participants.
The participants were divided into two equally large groups, and they were asked to play the game The Elder Scrolls® V: Skyrim from Bethesda Game Studios in the first-person perspective using an HMD (VR group) or a classical computer screen (PC group) for around 30 minutes.
Both groups were assessed before playing Skyrim, immediately after gaming, one day after gaming, and one week after gaming to identify potential VR-induced symptoms of DPDR.
“After both, PC gaming and VR gaming, the amount of DPDR experience was reported to be stronger than during baseline,” the researchers write in the discussion section. “Second, participants of the VR group reported a significantly stronger increase in DPDR symptoms than participants of the PC group.”
The researchers note that the measured DPDR symptoms didn’t reach clinically significant levels and were only evident directly after VR use. As such, they could simply be the result of the brain coping with the transition from virtual reality to actual reality—not an indication of something more serious.
Still, issues like this should be taken seriously, especially in the context of long-term VR use. It’s important to remember that all human brains are slightly different, and one virtual reality experience may be perfectly safe for one person but dangerous for someone with an existing condition.