Psychologists have begun using virtual reality to help veterans deal with post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The Office of Naval of Research first started funding the work in 2005, encouraging several different groups to test how virtual reality might help soldiers with a disorder that may effect as many as 30 percent of Iraq war veterans.
The technique, which has been used to treat a variety of phobias, essentially forces the soldiers to revisit all the horrors of war. Wearing head-mounted displays, ear phones and sitting on rattling chairs, soldiers are immersed in a virtual battle zone. Bombs shake their Humvees. They patrol simulated versions of potentially dangerous villages. In some set-ups, the researchers can even incorporate the smell of gun fire or burning rubber to heighten the sense of reality. And there have been some encouraging results. In one study, conducted jointly at San Diego’s Naval Medical Center and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, six out of eight veterans who received virtual reality treatment improved.—Gregory Mone