Virtual reality (VR) shows promise for Crohn’s patients seeking pain relief, but the specific VR experience can impact its effectiveness. An important consideration is the use of avatars - virtual representations of the self within the VR environment.
Research reveals the design and abilities of VR avatars influence how deeply users become immersed and how much pain relief they experience.
Avatar Appearance and Perspective
Studies demonstrate that avatars closely matching the user’s real face, body, and clothing increase the sense of “embodiment” in VR. This embodiment enhances distraction from pain as users feel more present in the VR world.
A consistent first-person visual perspective from the avatar’s eyes also improves pain relief compared to third-person views.
When VR avatars have realistic movement capabilities and interact seamlessly with the environment, the user’s pain perception decreases more than with static avatars.
Virtual embodiment that enables flying, swimming, and other fantastical abilities provides greater distraction. Syncing avatar motions to the user’s body movements bolsters the immersion effect.
Customizing features like avatar facial features, skin tone, and clothing to match one’s identity has been shown to augment pain reduction. Tailoring the avatar boosts users’ sense of “ownership” over it and further separates their focus from physical discomfort.
Personalised avatars like the Ready Player Me or Apple's version via thier Vision Pro headset that reflect the self in an idealized way may enhance therapeutic benefits.
For Crohn’s patients exploring VR for pain management, choosing experiences with personalized, responsive, and embodied avatar representations can deepen the level of immersion.
This evolves VR from a passive experience into an active escape from pain, providing greater relief.