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A Virtual Out-of-Body Experience Reduces Fear of Death

Bourdin, P; Barberia, I; Oliva, R; Slater, M; (2017) A Virtual Out-of-Body Experience Reduces Fear of Death. PLoS ONE , 12 (1) , Article e0169343. 10.1371/journal.pone.0169343. Green open access

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Abstract

Immersive virtual reality can be used to visually substitute a person’s real body by a life-sized virtual body (VB) that is seen from first person perspective. Using real-time motion capture the VB can be programmed to move synchronously with the real body (visuomotor synchrony), and also virtual objects seen to strike the VB can be felt through corresponding vibrotactile stimulation on the actual body (visuotactile synchrony). This setup typically gives rise to a strong perceptual illusion of ownership over the VB. When the viewpoint is lifted up and out of the VB so that it is seen below this may result in an out-of-body experience (OBE). In a two-factor between-groups experiment with 16 female participants per group we tested how fear of death might be influenced by two different methods for producing an OBE. In an initial embodiment phase where both groups experienced the same multisensory stimuli there was a strong feeling of body ownership. Then the viewpoint was lifted up and behind the VB. In the experimental group once the viewpoint was out of the VB there was no further connection with it (no visuomotor or visuotactile synchrony). In a control condition, although the viewpoint was in the identical place as in the experimental group, visuomotor and visuotactile synchrony continued. While both groups reported high scores on a question about their OBE illusion, the experimental group had a greater feeling of disownership towards the VB below compared to the control group, in line with previous findings. Fear of death in the experimental group was found to be lower than in the control group. This is in line with previous reports that naturally occurring OBEs are often associated with enhanced belief in life after death.

Type: Article
Title: A Virtual Out-of-Body Experience Reduces Fear of Death
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169343
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0169343
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2017 Bourdin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Computer Science
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1536493
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