Isness: Using Multi-Person VR to Design Peak Mystical-Type Experiences Comparable to Psychedelics

Wonnacott Mark D.
Wonnacott Mark D.
Freire Rachel
Freire Rachel
Glowacki Becca R.
Glowacki Becca R.
Gale Ella M.
Gale Ella M.
Pike James E.
Pike James E.
de Haan Tiu
de Haan Tiu
Chatziapostolou Mike
Chatziapostolou Mike

CHI '20: CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Honolulu HI USA April, 2020, pp. 1-14, 2020.

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Within a supportive setting and conceptual framework, we have presented evidence suggesting that it is possible to design phenomenological experiences using multi-person VR which create the conditions for mystical-type experiences’ from which participants derive insight and meani...

Abstract:

Studies combining psychotherapy with psychedelic drugs (Ds) have demonstrated positive outcomes that are often associated with 'Ds' ability to induce 'mystical-type' experiences (MTEs) i.e., subjective experiences whose characteristics include a sense of connectedness, transcendence, and ineffability. We suggest that both PsiDs and virtua...More

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Introduction
  • In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley recounted taking mescaline under the guidance of psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond.
  • The intervening years have seen a number of additional studies, where psilocybin has been administered to healthy volunteers; [24, 26] patients with life-threatening cancer diagnoses; [25, 67] people dealing with addiction; [18, 38, 39] and those afflicted with treatment-resistant depression [13]
  • Several of these studies reaffirm the fact that participants’ subjective reports of MTEs following YD ingestion offers a good predictor of positive therapeutic outcomes
Highlights
  • In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley recounted taking mescaline under the guidance of psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond
  • [22] In the intervening years, Griffiths and co-workers have accumulated evidence that YD efficacy in treating depression, addiction, and end-of-life anxiety correlates with their ability to occasion ‘mystical-type experiences’ (MTEs) which participants recount as being profoundly meaningful. [40]
  • Our attempts to understand whether the perceptual affordances of multi-person VR enable phenomenological experiences that create the conditions for MTEs which participants perceive as insightful and meaningful follows recent calls within human-computer-interaction (HCI) to focus on designing tools that enable experiences of meaning
  • Within a supportive setting and conceptual framework, we have presented evidence suggesting that it is possible to design phenomenological experiences using multi-person VR which create the conditions for MTEs from which participants derive insight and meaning
  • Much YD research aims to help patients deal with addictions and end-of-life anxiety, individual conditions which represent the broader problems facing our culture right
  • In a supportive therapeutic context, numedelic technologies like Isness may offer an opportunity for a digital culture which is addicted to unhealthy economic growth narratives to meditate on its own mortality
Methods
  • 64 healthy adults participated in Isness, where it formed part of the art installation program at a biennial psychedelics and consciousness conference held in 2019 at the University of Greenwich (London).
  • Isness took place in two rooms on a low traffic corridor off the main conference lobby.
  • Isness ran 16 times, with 64 total participants.
  • The authors adopted VR guidelines in line with those recommended by Madary and Metzinger.
  • Aesthetic living-room environment (ALRE); 4 sessions with guides before; integration meeting afterward Healthy
Results
  • Fig 2A shows that these baseline studies have a broad MEQ30 score distribution; the comparative statistical analyses (Fig 2B and Table S2) show that the Isness results are more intense (p < 1E-12) than all of them, including for example the 2018 study where Griffiths et al [26] gave 1 mg psilocybin to participants who were engaged in a supportive program of meditation and spiritual practice
Conclusion
  • In devising Isness, the authors imagined VR as a form of psychedelic technology, investigating whether it could be used as a tool for eliciting subjective accounts of MTEs. To guide the design process for constructing the multi-person VR phenomenology, the authors looked to concepts which characterize MTEs. Quantitative analysis shows that, given a supportive setting, Isness produced ‘peak experience’ MTEs which are statistically indistinguishable from the MTEs observed in previous studies administering moderate to high doses of classical YDs. The qualitative analysis helps to rationalize the quantitative MEQ30 scores, providing insight into the subjective experiences and themes which arose.
  • In a supportive therapeutic context, numedelic technologies like Isness may offer an opportunity for a digital culture which is addicted to unhealthy economic growth narratives to meditate on its own mortality
Summary
  • Introduction:

    In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley recounted taking mescaline under the guidance of psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond.
  • The intervening years have seen a number of additional studies, where psilocybin has been administered to healthy volunteers; [24, 26] patients with life-threatening cancer diagnoses; [25, 67] people dealing with addiction; [18, 38, 39] and those afflicted with treatment-resistant depression [13]
  • Several of these studies reaffirm the fact that participants’ subjective reports of MTEs following YD ingestion offers a good predictor of positive therapeutic outcomes
  • Methods:

    64 healthy adults participated in Isness, where it formed part of the art installation program at a biennial psychedelics and consciousness conference held in 2019 at the University of Greenwich (London).
  • Isness took place in two rooms on a low traffic corridor off the main conference lobby.
  • Isness ran 16 times, with 64 total participants.
  • The authors adopted VR guidelines in line with those recommended by Madary and Metzinger.
  • Aesthetic living-room environment (ALRE); 4 sessions with guides before; integration meeting afterward Healthy
  • Results:

    Fig 2A shows that these baseline studies have a broad MEQ30 score distribution; the comparative statistical analyses (Fig 2B and Table S2) show that the Isness results are more intense (p < 1E-12) than all of them, including for example the 2018 study where Griffiths et al [26] gave 1 mg psilocybin to participants who were engaged in a supportive program of meditation and spiritual practice
  • Conclusion:

    In devising Isness, the authors imagined VR as a form of psychedelic technology, investigating whether it could be used as a tool for eliciting subjective accounts of MTEs. To guide the design process for constructing the multi-person VR phenomenology, the authors looked to concepts which characterize MTEs. Quantitative analysis shows that, given a supportive setting, Isness produced ‘peak experience’ MTEs which are statistically indistinguishable from the MTEs observed in previous studies administering moderate to high doses of classical YDs. The qualitative analysis helps to rationalize the quantitative MEQ30 scores, providing insight into the subjective experiences and themes which arose.
  • In a supportive therapeutic context, numedelic technologies like Isness may offer an opportunity for a digital culture which is addicted to unhealthy economic growth narratives to meditate on its own mortality
Tables
  • Table1: p-values from independent sample t-tests results comparing the Isness MEQ30 I, M, P, and T factor scores to the 26 previously published YD studies given in
  • Table2: Results (p values) from various normality tests for the datasets. Where the test would not reject the null hypothesis (that the data is a normal distribution) at the p>0.05 level the p values are in bold. The results clearly shown that the I dataset fails nearly all of the tests, whereas the M, P, and T scores pass most tests
  • Table3: p-values obtained from compares the Isness MEQ30 I, M, P, and T factor scores to the 26 previously published YD studies given in Fig 2A-B and Table SM1
  • Table4: Raw factor scores obtained from the Isness MEQ30 questionnaires
Download tables as Excel
Funding
  • DRG is supported by the Leverhulme Trust (Philip Leverhulme Prize), Royal Society (URF/R/180033) and EPSRC (institutional sponsorship award & EP/P021123/1); OM by EPSRC (EP/N00616X/2); MW by the Royal Society (RGF/EA/181075) and BBSRC (BB/R00661X/1); and JEP, MW, & TdH by the ArtSci International Foundation
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