Virtual reality and the psychological consequences

Julian’s had a very busy day. But now he’s found time for a quick sleep on his raft in the middle of the ocean. His morning began with a few games of Call of Duty, before leaving for a guided tour of the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona. He took his lunch at the top of the Mont Blanc mountain; the view was stunning. This was followed by a spot of diving along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, after which he finally found time for a siesta, lulled by lapping water. At 11 in the evening someone knocks at the door, and Julian removes his Oculus Rift. Back to reality!

Seem impossible? In just a few years it will be well within our reach. Artist Thorsten S. Wiedemann recently tested the virtual reality helmet by wearing it 48 hours non-stop. For two days, he played, journeyed to new worlds, ate and communicated with the helmet on his head, sleeping almost normally, except for a few bad trips… You can read what he says about his experience at Motherboard.

Psychological consequences 

These new methods, involving teleportation to a virtual world, raise several questions, mostly of a psychological nature. We went to meet Auriane Gomez, a clinical psychologist, to find out more:

Why might we need virtuality?

“In today’s complex and increasingly demanding society, a virtual world provides a safe haven, tailored to our needs and desires. It’s a place for having fun, allowing us to evolve in a world we build ourselves, where we play an active role rather than simply that of spectator. By making choices we create a position for ourselves, and do as we please.”

What can a virtual world offer that real life cannot?

“The virtual world is a controlled world where everything is foreseen, allowing us to plan future events so we can anticipate what will happen and prepare for it. So it does away with the agonising uncertainty of reality. The virtual world protects us from our finitude, making us feel immortal, timeless.”

What do you think are the psychological consequences of returning to reality?

“We need to be particularly aware of the possible psychological impact. It would be worth specifically studying the risks of immersing ourselves in this kind of timeless, make-believe world. The danger could lie in these virtual experiences taking up too much of our everyday lives, interfering with our reality. The limits of the virtual world are not the same as those for the real world, and it’s important we’re aware of this so we can adapt our behaviour. We should reflect on ways of creating links between these two worlds, to find a balance and avoid confusion. But virtual reality can never be a substitute for reality. It cannot replace a relationship with real people, because communication is grounded in reality. When Thorsten S. Wiedemann speaks of his experience, he mentions the lack of friends and feeling lonely. So there’s no point turning to virtual reality in an attempt to satisfy a need for interdependence.”

As Auriane Gomez says, virtuality raises many questions, in particular concerning the border between what’s real and what’s not. Manufacturers have already begun addressing the consequences of immersing ourselves in virtuality then returning to reality, and equipped helmets with a “passthrough” feature allowing you to temporarily see your surroundings and interact briefly with the real world, to make crossing the border easier. More recently, Leap Motion introduced the Quick Switch feature to go from real to virtual (and vice versa) in passing its hands a few centimeters in front of its eyes.

Leap Motion_quick switch

Une virtualité palpable

Start-ups are also working on making virtuality increasingly realistic, taking the experience well beyond our perception of an image. Research is currently underway on solutions allowing us to control and touch our virtuality.

Gloveone gloves recreate the sensation of touch using a vibration system.


And the start-up Teslasuit, is working on a complete suit allowing you to act out and feel all your virtuality experiences.

It will become increasingly difficult for us to differentiate between the real world and the virtual world, except for the fact that we need to wear helmets and accessories. For the moment at least. It might also be worth studying the medical consequences of experiencing sensations in virtuality. Might an inverse placebo be possible? After all, when they die in the Matrix they die in real life too. But of course that’s science fiction…

All the examples provided in this article were discovered in our Digital Chillout. Subscribe now!

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