• Embodying compassion: A virtual reality paradigm for overcoming excessive self-criticism

      Falconer, Caroline J.; Slater, Mel; Rovira, Aitor; King, John A.; Gilbert, Paul; Antley, Angus; Brewin, Chris R.; University College London; University of Barcelona; University of Derby (PLOS, 2014-11-12)
      Virtual reality has been successfully used to study and treat psychological disorders such as phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder but has rarely been applied to clinically-relevant emotions other than fear and anxiety. Self-criticism is a ubiquitous feature of psychopathology and can be treated by increasing levels of self-compassion. We exploited the known effects of identification with a virtual body to arrange for healthy female volunteers high in self-criticism to experience self-compassion from an embodied first-person perspective within immersive virtual reality. Whereas observation and practice of compassionate responses reduced self-criticism, the additional experience of embodiment also increased self-compassion and feelings of being safe. The results suggest potential new uses for immersive virtual reality in a range of clinical conditions.
    • Postural threat differentially affects the feedforward and feedback components of the vestibular-evoked balance response

      Osler, Callum J.; Tersteeg, M. C. A.; Reynolds, Raymond Francis; Loram, Ian D.; University of Birmingham, School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences; Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, Institute for Biomedical Research into Human Movement and Health (Wiley, 2013)
      Circumstances may render the consequence of falling quite severe, thus maximising the motivation to control postural sway. This commonly occurs when exposed to height and may result from the interaction of many factors, including fear, arousal, sensory information and perception. Here, we examined human vestibular-evoked balance responses during exposure to a highly threatening postural context. Nine subjects stood with eyes closed on a narrow walkway elevated 3.85 m above ground level. This evoked an altered psycho-physiological state, demonstrated by a twofold increase in skin conductance. Balance responses were then evoked by galvanic vestibular stimulation. The sway response, which comprised a whole-body lean in the direction of the edge of the walkway, was significantly and substantially attenuated after ~800 ms. This demonstrates that a strong reason to modify the balance control strategy was created and subjects were highly motivated to minimise sway. Despite this, the initial response remained unchanged. This suggests little effect on the feedforward settings of the nervous system responsible for coupling pure vestibular input to functional motor output. The much stronger, later effect can be attributed to an integration of balance-relevant sensory feedback once the body was in motion. These results demonstrate that the feedforward and feedback components of a vestibular-evoked balance response are differently affected by postural threat. Although a fear of falling has previously been linked with instability and even falling itself, our findings suggest that this relationship is not attributable to changes in the feedforward vestibular control of balance.