In a blog post, research assistant Sara Sutori discusses improving the diagnosis of mental health disorders expertiseA study of a virtual reality environment designed to assess symptoms of depression ISRCTN Register.
Young man wearing virtual reality glasses
The EXPERIENCE project aims to enable the creation and sharing of extended personal truths. Extended Personal Realities are specially designed virtual environments created from personal neurophysiological data and equipped with psychological, cognitive, and behavioral information. The extended personal reality of the user (provider) can be shared with others who will re-live the same experience through visual, auditory, and tactile stimuli, temporal manipulation, and multiple biofeedback. This will enable a new type of social interaction, and provide access to new, previously inaccessible layers of consciousness. In practice, the project will result in a ready-made and easy-to-use system of hardware and software technologies that will allow everyone to create their own virtual reality environments.
The research consortium responsible for the project is constantly building the required hardware and software infrastructure – including, but not limited to, a wearable system for recording physiological states as well as advanced artificial intelligence for ease of use and rapid reconstruction of physical environments and their conversion into virtual reality (limited currently on static and on-premises environments). At the same time, scientific research is still ongoing to better understand subjective personal experiences, for example space and time perception; As well as making use of the system of extensive personal experience and facts for the diagnosis and treatment of emotional disorders.
Current diagnostic protocols for affective disorders are often based on self-reports and verbal communication between the patient and the psychiatrist. Thus, it requires the patient to accurately think about and describe their symptoms and for the mental health professional to accurately understand their personal experience.
Mental Health Assessment – Importance of Virtual Reality?
The expertise system aims to make the diagnostic process more direct by removing the communication barrier. This is made possible by virtual reality, which enables direct observation and measurement of behaviour. By first identifying patterns of behavior that differ between those with affective disorders and healthy individuals, the system has the promise of later recognizing the same pattern and supporting the diagnostic process. Currently, the consortium is working on assessing the severity of symptoms of depression, but will later also focus on anxiety and anorexia nervosa.
The pilot study began
Data collection began expertise An experiment in Padua, Italy, to test the first version of a virtual reality environment specifically designed to assess symptoms of depression. Participants are free to explore the virtual environment that resembles a family home – while doing so, many actions are recorded, including certain behaviors, eye gaze, cognitive functioning, and even physiological measures. The collected data will be used to train a machine learning algorithm that should assess symptoms of depression based on interaction with the virtual environment.
We will see which of the actions is useful, then it can be taken in future versions of the system. Future releases will be more personal – eg by using personalized recordings for virtual environments rather than pre-designed ones. As the project’s hardware and software technologies evolve, more data will be available to inform the algorithms.
We hope that the system of expertise will be able to support the diagnosis of affective disorders by incorporating novel, objective measures into the diagnostic process. This may lead to earlier detection or enable the identification of different subgroups of patients.
In the future, the treatment possibilities of the experience system will also be investigated, including for example exposure therapy in virtual reality.
The Experience and Study Project was funded by the European Commission Framework Program H2020, Grant No. 101017727.