Nav: Home

Virtual reality could be used to treat autism

March 28, 2019

Playing games in virtual reality (VR) could be a key tool in treating people with neurological disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease.

The technology, according to a recent study from the University of Waterloo, could help individuals with these neurological conditions shift their perceptions of time, which their conditions lead them to perceive differently.

"The ability to estimate the passage of time with precision is fundamental to our ability to interact with the world," says co-author Séamas Weech, post-doctoral fellow in Kinesiology. "For some individuals, however, the internal clock is maladjusted, causing timing deficiencies that affect perception and action.

"Studies like ours help us to understand how these deficiencies might be acquired, and how to recalibrate time perception in the brain."

The UWaterloo study involved 18 females and 13 males with normal vision and no sensory, musculoskeletal or neurological disorders. The researchers used a virtual reality game, Robo Recall, to create a natural setting in which to encourage re-calibration of time perception. The key manipulation of the study was that the researchers coupled the speed and duration of visual events to the participant's body movements.

The researchers measured participants' time perception abilities before and after they were exposed to the dynamic VR task. Some participants also completed non-VR time-perception tasks, such as throwing a ball, to use as a control comparison.

The researchers measured the actual and perceived durations of a moving probe in the time perception tasks. They discovered that the virtual reality manipulation was associated with significant reductions in the participants' estimates of time, by around 15 percent.

"This study adds valuable proof that the perception of time is flexible, and that VR offers a potentially valuable tool for recalibrating time in the brain," says Weech. "It offers a compelling application for rehabilitation initiatives that focus on how time perception breaks down in certain populations."

Weech adds, however, that while the effects were strong during the current study, more research is needed to find out how long the effects last, and whether these signals are observable in the brain. "For developing clinical applications, we need to know whether these effects are stable for minutes, days, or weeks afterward. A longitudinal study would provide the answer to this question."

"Virtual reality technology has matured dramatically," says Michael Barnett-Cowan, neuroscience professor in the Department of Kinesiology and senior author of the paper. "VR now convincingly changes our experience of space and time, enabling basic research in perception to inform our understanding of how the brains of normal, injured, aged and diseased populations work and how they can be treated to perform optimally."
-end-
The article, "Movement-Contingent Time Flow in Virtual Reality Causes Temporal Recalibration" was written by Ambika Bansal, Séamas Weech and Michael Barnett-Cowan, and published in Scientific Reports.

University of Waterloo

Related Autism Articles:

Genes, ozone, and autism
Exposure to ozone in the environment puts individuals with high levels of genetic variation at an even higher risk for developing autism than would be expected just by adding the two risk factors together, a new analysis shows.
A blood test for autism
An algorithm based on levels of metabolites found in a blood sample can accurately predict whether a child is on the autism spectrum of disorder (ASD), based upon a recent study.
New form of autism found
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affect around one percent of the world's population and are characterized by a range of difficulties in social interaction and communication.
Autism Speaks MSSNG study expands understanding of autism's complex genetics
A new study from Autism Speaks' MSSNG program expands understanding of autism's complex causes and may hold clues for the future development of targeted treatments.
Paths to Autism: One or Many?
A new report in Biological Psychiatry reports that brain alterations in infants at risk for autism may be widespread and affect multiple systems, in contrast to the widely held assumption of impairment specifically in social brain networks.
Raising a child with autism
Humans are resilient, even facing the toughest of life's challenges.
Explaining autism
Recognizing a need to better understand the biology that produces Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) symptoms, scientists at Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), Singapore, have teamed up and identified a novel mechanism that potentially links abnormal brain development to the cause of ASDs.
Autism breakthrough
Using a visual test that is known to prompt different reactions in autistic and normal brains, Harvard researchers have shown that those differences were associated with a breakdown in the signaling pathway used by GABA, one of the brain's chief inhibitory neurotransmitters.
New options for treating autism
The release of oxytocin leads to an increase in the production of anandamide, which causes mice to display a preference for interacting socially.
The Autism Science Foundation launches the Autism Sisters Project
The Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and funding autism research, today announced the launch of the Autism Sisters Project, a new initiative that will give unaffected sisters of individuals with autism the opportunity to take an active role in accelerating research into the 'Female Protective Effect.'

Related Autism Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...