Invisibility may seem like a great idea at times, and a new study which gave participants the feeling of not being seen resulted in some subjects feeling reduced levels of stress.
While the technique shows promise in reducing social anxiety, it suggests the feeling of wanting to disappear may not solve as many problems as people want it to, although it could prove to be a boon for psychotherapy.
A virtual-reality headset was placed over the eyes of subjects in the study, and additional techniques were utilized to give volunteers the impression that they were invisible. While people were wearing the electronic glasses, participants conducting the study brushed their hair, but all the subjects saw was a brush waving through thin air. This effect was enough for many of them to feel that their entire bodies were invisible.
Social anxiety was greatly reduced in some subjects, who were presented with the image of a group of strangers looking at them as their heartbeats were measured. This technique could provide a new means of treating people with social anxiety disorder. People with this condition experience nervousness, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat whenever they are in front of an audience.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is traditionally used by psychotherapists to treat phobias, including social anxiety. This process involves exposing a patient to increasing levels of their fear, getting them more comfortable with their feelings and able to manage their discomfort bit by bit. This experiment suggests that subjects may also be treated for social anxiety disorder by making them feel invisible at first, and slowly exposing more of their bodies to a group of strangers.
In addition to treating people with social anxiety disorder, this new study could also shed light on the phantom body illusion, in which people who are paralyzed feel as if they have another body which is not in line with their physical one.
Many researchers are attempting to develop means of making people invisible, but the devices, so far, are far from practical.
Invisibility has been a favorite subject of storytellers from Plato's Republic to The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Invisible Man, a science-fiction story by H.G. Wells that has been adapted several times for the silver screen.
Such stories are filled with moral dilemmas faced by those people who do experience invisibility, and future research could be aimed at studying how such an ability would affect decision-making in social situations.
"We are planning to expose participants to a number of moral dilemmas under the illusion that they are invisible, and compare their responses to a context in which they perceive having a normal physical body," said Arvid Guterstam, co-author of an article announcing the results of the research.
Study of the mental effects of being invisible was detailed in the journal Scientific Reports.
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