Group VR experiences can produce ego attenuation and connectedness comparable to psychedelics

This paper (2022) introduces “Isness-distributed” (Isness-D), a VR framework which harnesses the unique affordances of distributed multi-person VR to blur conventional self-other boundaries. To evaluate Isness-D,  the results of 4 different self-report scales previously applied to analyze subjective psychedelic drug phenomenology were analysed. Across all four scales, the Isness-D scores were statistically indistinguishable from recently published studies with psychedelic drugs highlighting the power of VR to develop self-transcendent experiences.

Abstract

“With a growing body of research highlighting the therapeutic potential of experiential phenomenology which diminishes egoic identity and increases one’s sense of connectedness, there is significant interest in how to elicit such ‘self-transcendent experiences’ (STEs) in laboratory contexts. Psychedelic drugs (YDs) have proven particularly effective in this respect, producing subjective phenomenology which reliably elicits intense STEs. With virtual reality (VR) emerging as a powerful tool for constructing new perceptual environments, we describe a VR framework called ‘Isness-distributed’ (Isness-D) which harnesses the unique affordances of distributed multi-person VR to blur conventional self-other boundaries. Within Isness-D, groups of participants co-habit a shared virtual space, collectively experiencing their bodies as luminous energetic essences with diffuse spatial boundaries. It enables moments of ‘energetic coalescence’, a new class of embodied intersubjective experience where bodies can fluidly merge, enabling participants to include multiple others within their self-representation. To evaluate Isness-D, we adopted a citizen science approach, coordinating an international network of Isness-D ‘nodes’. We analyzed the results (N = 58) using 4 different self-report scales previously applied to analyze subjective YD phenomenology (the inclusion of community in self scale, ego-dissolution inventory, communitas scale, and the MEQ30 mystical experience questionnaire). Despite the complexities associated with a distributed experiment like this, the Isness-D scores on all 4 scales were statistically indistinguishable from recently published YD studies, demonstrating that distributed VR can be used to design intersubjective STEs where people dissolve their sense of self in the connection to others.”

Authors: David R. Glowacki, Rhoslyn R. Williams, Mark D. Wonnacott, Olivia M. Maynard, Rachel Freire, James E. Pike, Mike Chatziapostolou

Notes

This paper builds on previously published work on “Isness.”

We had the chance to catch up with the paper’s lead author David Glowacki. Check out the interview here.

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Study details

Topics studied
Technology

Study characteristics
Qualitative

Participants
58 Humans

Authors

Authors associated with this publication with profiles on Blossom

David Glowacki
David Glowacki is a cross-disciplinary researcher, with interests spanning computer science, nanoscience, aesthetics, cultural theory, and spirituality. He founded the ‘Intangible Realities Laboratory’ (IRL) which applies virtual reality to develop interactive scientific simulation and visualisation at the immersive frontiers of scientific, aesthetic, computational, and technological practice. His work entails the development of a global citizen science network to investigate the use of virtual reality to elicit scalable mystical-type experiences which are comparable to psychedelics, using the so-called 'Isness' protocol. His future work in collaboration with Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris plans to combine virtual reality with mild doses of psilocybin.

Linked Research Papers

Notable research papers that build on or are influenced by this paper

Isness: Using Multi-Person VR to Design Peak Mystical Type Experiences Comparable to Psychedelics
This study (n=57) assessed the experiences of people undergoing a Virtual Reality (VR) journey using the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ30). 'Isness' is a VR experience developed using concepts, methods and analysis strategies from psychedelic research. It was found that Isness participants reported Mystical Type Experiences comparable to those reported in double-blind clinical studies after high doses of psilocybin and LSD.

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