CyberTherapy Avatar Will See You Now

CyberTherapy lets therapists working through avatars improve behavior through the use of simulations conducted in shared virtual worlds.


(USC Cybertherapist In the virtual Old West)

For more than a decade, a handful of therapists have been using virtual environments to help people to work through phobias, like a fear of heights or of public spaces. But now advances in artificial intelligence and computer modeling are allowing them to take on a wider array of complex social challenges and to gain insight into how people are affected by interactions with virtual humans — or by inhabiting avatars of themselves.

Researchers are populating digital worlds with autonomous, virtual humans that can evoke the same tensions as in real-life encounters. People with social anxiety are struck dumb when asked questions by a virtual stranger. Heavy drinkers feel strong urges to order something from a virtual bartender, while gamblers are drawn to sit down and join a group playing on virtual slot machines. And therapists can advise patients at the very moment those sensations are felt.

Science fiction fans recognize the basic elements of CyberTherapy. In his 1985 book Ender's Game, the students all use their computer "desks" for Free Play. In the guise of presenting an enjoyable simulation to children, the adults could probe the psychology of the young students:

Ender sat on his bed with his desk on his knees. It was private study time, and Ender was doing Free Play. It was a shifting, crazy kind of game in which the school computer kept bringing up new things, building a maze that you could explore. You could go back to events that you liked for a while; if you left one alone too long, it disappeared and something elese took its place.

Sometimes they were funny things. Sometimes exciting ones, and he had to be quick to stay alive. He had lots of deaths, but that was OK, games were like that...

Cybertherapists are ready to go where the patients are; read Therapists Plan World Of Warcraft Raid to find out more.


(World of Warcraft in progress - who's ready for therapy?)

Via NYTimes.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/23/2010)

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