London: Scientists have found that foodpresented in a virtual reality environment causes the sameemotional response as real food, a discovery that could beused for the evaluation and treatment of eating disorders. Researchers believe that the technique, which allows oneto pretend as if eating in a computer generated restaurant,could reduce the fear for food among people suffering fromconditions like anorexia and bulimia.
The virtual reality (VR) experience was shown to be muchstronger than just showing the patients photographs. Lead researcher Alessandra Gorini from the IstitutoAuxologico Italiano, Milan, said: "Though preliminary, ourdata show that virtual stimuli are as effective as real ones,and more effective than static pictures, in generatingemotional responses in eating disorder patients". During the research, all the participants -- 10 anorexic,10 bulimic and 10 healthy subjects -- were initially shown aseries of six real, high-calorie foods placed on a table infront of them. Their heart rate, perspiration and psychological stresswere measured during the exposure. This process was then repeated with a slide show of thesame foods, and a virtual reality trip into acomputer-generated diner where they could interact with thevirtual version of the same six items. It was found that the participants` level of stress wasstatistically identical whether in virtual reality or realexposure. Gorini said: "Since real and virtual exposure elicit acomparable level of stress, higher than the one elicited bystatic pictures, we may eventually see VR being used toscreen, evaluate, and treat the emotional reactions provokedby specific stimuli in patients affected by differentpsychological disorders".PTI
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