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

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 12;9(11):e111933. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111933. eCollection 2014.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety
  • Attitude
  • Emotions*
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Psychometrics
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Care
  • Self-Assessment*
  • Software
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy*
  • Young Adult