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Psychological and physiological responses to stressful situations in immersive virtual reality: Differences between users who practice mindfulness meditation and controls
Authors:Crescentini C., Chittaro L., Capurso V., Sioni R., Fabbro F.
Published in:Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 59, June 2016, pp. 304-316.
Abstract: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.