Figuring out how the human brain processes emotions have traditionally been done with highly simplified experiments. Until now. Virtual reality (VR) has allowed scientists and researchers to measure brain activity like never before.

Recent VR studies took place under controlled laboratory conditions, so results could be easily compared. Most simulated situations were not particularly emotionally arousing and were far removed from the experiences we normally have. This was because emotions are continuously created through an interplay of past experiences and various external influences with which we interact.

Creating Emotional Environments in VR

With regard to emotions, it is therefore particularly important to create situations that are perceived as real (or as close as technology allows). Only in this way can we assume that the simultaneously measured brain activation comes close to that which occurs in real life outside the laboratory. VR glasses provide a remedy here.

With VR glasses, participants can immerse themselves dynamically and interactively in situations and experience them close to reality. Emotions are thus evoked in a more natural way.

The results of a recent study showed that the degree to which a person is emotionally aroused can be seen in a specific form of rhythmic brain activity (Alpha oscillations). The lower the strength of this oscillation in the measured EEG signal, the higher the arousal.

One of the study authors noted that “using alpha oscillations, we were able to predict how strongly a person experiences a situation emotionally. Our models learned which brain areas are particularly important for this prediction. Roughly speaking, the less alpha activity measured here, the more aroused the person is.”

Another scientist on the study noted “in the future, it could be possible to apply these findings and methods to practical applications beyond basic research. VR glasses, for example, are increasingly being used in psychological therapy. Neurophysiological information about the emotional state of patients could lead to an improvement in treatment.”

Future Uses for VR Therapy

In the future, therapists may be able to gain insight into emotional feelings during an exposure situation without having to ask the patient directly and thus interrupt the situation.

Scientists investigated these relationships with the help of EEGs, which allowed them to record the participants’ brain waves during the virtual roller coaster ride—in order to determine what happens in the brain during the ride.

Additionally, after the tests subjects were asked to rate how excited they were over the course of the VR experience using a video. In this way, the researchers wanted to find out whether the subjective sensations during the ride correlate with the measured data from brain activity.

Since people differ in how much they like to ride on roller coasters, it was irrelevant whether the situation was perceived as positive or negative. What mattered was the strength of the sensation.

For the evaluation, the researchers used three different machine learning models to predict the subjective sensations as accurately as possible from the EEG data. The authors thereby showed that with the help of these approaches, the connection between EEG signals and emotional feelings can also be confirmed under naturalistic conditions.

Neurofeedback Therapy at NHA

Here at Neurohealth Associates, we specialize in Neurofeedback therapy. Neurofeedback may be helpful for training your mind, especially if you are unsure about putting yourself or your child on medication. This easy, noninvasive therapy can painlessly improve your mental health condition and outlook on life. Schedule a consultation with NeuroHealth Associates today and find out how we can help you.

Originally article published by Press Office & The Max Planck Institute.

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