06/29/2021 at 5:30 PM CEST
A new study developed at the University of California, Los Angeles has found that the brain responds differently in immersive virtual reality environments than in the real world. This could allow scientists to understand how the brain gathers sensory information from different sources to create a coherent picture of the reality around us, and how it differentiates the virtual from the real.
In addition, it could open the way for the development of virtual reality therapies, applicable to disorders related to learning and memory such as autism, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and depression. These therapies could be especially effective in readjusting and stimulating the brain rhythms that lose vigor in these conditions.
The theta waves They are electromagnetic oscillations in a specific range that can be detected in the human brain through an EEG. Its importance in the activity of the hippocampus is known, an area of the brain specially oriented to promote learning, memory and the recognition of perceived space.
Out of date rhythms
In certain pathologies, such as neurodegenerative diseases, the rhythm of theta waves slows down and, consequently, the learning and memory processes they become more complex, erroneous, confusing and deficient. At the same time, spatial location is also affected, as seen for example in Alzheimer’s.
According to a press release, American researchers have discovered through experiments on rodents that creating environments of immersive virtual reality, that is, those that present a three-dimensional configuration and enhance the realism of the images, would allow theta waves to be promoted and favor the cognitive processes linked to learning and memory.
According to the conclusions of the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, multisensory experiences govern the rhythms that take place in the hippocampus, explaining why the new research has found differences in the rhythm of theta waves, when experiencing a real environment and when experiencing an immersive virtual reality environment.
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A new harmony
Consequently, virtual reality can be used to boost or control brain rhythms, as well as to alter neuronal dynamics, the interconnections between brain networks and brain plasticity, which determines a greater or lesser capacity to acquire new learning.
In addition to driving theta waves to harmonize with the rhythms of brain dynamics, in the same way that the members of a choir need to harmonize at the tonal level so that the result of the whole is as expected, the specialists found that the experiences Virtual machines produce a new type of wave, which they called “eta.”
The rhythm «eta» it was not only registered in the virtual environment. By placing electrodes at specific sites in the rats’ brains, they were able to verify that these waves are also recorded when experiencing the real world. However, immersive virtual reality technologies enhance them, as is the case with theta waves.
The specialists concluded that these discoveries allow us to think about the future development of new therapies based on virtual reality technologies, which allow coordinate and enhance brain rhythms, “Amplifying” theta waves when they have lost their vigor.
This would improve the treatment of diseases that affect learning and memory processes, such as autism or neurodegenerative pathologies, and could also be positive in psychosocial pathologies such as depression.
Enhanced hippocampal theta rhythmicity and emergence of eta oscillation in virtual reality. Safaryan, K., Mehta, MR Nature Neuroscience (2021) .DOI: https: //doi.org/10.1038/s41593-021-00871-z
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