Researchers have just shown that VR can reduce the fear of death. Helping people change their perceptions through a virtual experience is already a huge component in many fitness programs. Changing perceptions and showing potential outcomes is one of the most commonly used tools for keeping people motivated towards their fitness goals. Here’s how the researchers were able change people’s perception of death and how that can translate to changing people’s attitude towards exercise with minimal effort.

A lab at the University of Barcelona has been working for years on using virtual reality to change attitudes, perceptions and behaviors simply by giving them a certain avatar. Experiments have shown that changing an avatar’s skin color lowers racial bias and turning the avatar into a child alters perceptions. In this specific experiment, participants interacted in the virtual world with a full body ownership illusion, so the virtual body felt like their own. Then the perspective changed from first person to third person giving participants an “out of body experience.” The control group went through a similar experience but did not get the third person perspective. Those who had the out of body or third person perspective reported lower levels of fear of death than the control group.

Lead researcher Mel Slater said this gives “implicit evidence that it is possible to separate consciousness from the body, which may have the impact of changing attitudes towards death.” If a quick VR experience can change how someone feels about death, it can definitely help people reach their health and fitness goals by changing people’s attitudes toward fitness. Changes like this don’t even require a conscious act, just the opportunity to take a different perspective.

Using VR to Shift Exercise Attitudes

Anyone can get these fitness minded benefits by using a virtual avatar. A common question personal trainers will use to understand and motivate clients is “How will your life be different if you don’t reach your goals?” or “How will your life be different when you do reach your goals?” Taking this self-reflection and turning it into a VR experience to drive the subconscious is as easy as creating a body that is the best and worst-case scenario in a virtual environment. Seeing the consequences and benefits of exercise changes how people perceive fitness. Exercise is no longer a task or something people have to do. Exercise becomes associated with people’s positive self-perception. On the other hand, not exercising is equally associated with a negative self-image.

Going a step further, using these different bodies in a first and third person perspective would simulate the separation of consciousness from the body, a key component to VR changing attitudes and perceptions. Viewing yourself from an outside lens makes the situation real. Whether the image of the avatar is a regular conscious thought or not, we know that going through this shift in perception will help change attitudes.

 

Attitudes can’t be under valued when it comes to the role they play in fitness. Fitness is more than an activity, it’s a lifestyle that thrives on having particular perceptions and attitudes to everyday activities and choices. Choosing to exercise after a long stressful day rather than going home and watching TV is directly related to the attitude someone has towards exercise. If exercise is perceived as something that brings discomfort and little positive effects, it’s impossible to make exercise a long term habit. Altering the attitude to be focused on the benefits of exercise, and the associating those positives with the feelings of exercise, will have tremendous long term health and fitness outcomes.

If just a few minutes of a VR can change perceptions about death without any conscious effort, its possibilities for changing attitudes towards health and exercise are promising to say the least.

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