Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome

Comput Human Behav. 2016 Jun;59:304-316. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2016.02.031

Psychological and physiological responses to stressful situations in immersive virtual reality: Differences between users who practice mindfulness meditation and controls

Several studies in the literature have shown positive psychophysical effects during or immediately after mindfulness meditation. However, the extent to which such positive effects are maintained in real-life, stressful contexts, remains unclear. This paper investigates the effects of an 8-week mindfulness-oriented meditation (MOM) program on the psychological and physiological responses evoked by immersive virtual environments (IVEs) that simulate emergency situations that may occur in life. Before and after the 8-week period, healthy MOM participants and a group of controls not involved in any meditation course were administered self-report measures of mindfulness and anxiety, and acted in the IVEs while a set of physiological parameters were recorded. Responses of MOM participants to the immersive virtual experiences were different from those of controls. MOM participants showed increased mindfulness and decreased anxiety levels. They also showed decreased heart rate and corrugator muscle activity while facing IVEs. We explain these results in terms of the awareness and acceptance components of mindfulness. More generally, the present experimental methods could also open up new lines of research that combine psychological and physiological indices with ecologically valid stimuli provided by IVEs in an effort to increase understanding of the impact of mindfulness meditation on realistic life situations.

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