Media Technology MSc

MSc Thesis


Real-world versus Virtual Reality Treatment Simulations


Lisa E. Rombout




Placebo treatments are commonly used in scientific research as a comparison baseline for the actual treatment under study. Due to ethical considerations placebos alone are seldom used in clinical practice, although all treatments have placebo elements due to expectations and conditioning of the patient. In recent years, the mechanisms behind the placebo-response have been elucidated further, showing which factors influence the effect size and how the effect is psychologically and biologically mediated. With this greater understanding of what modulates the placebo-response, the possibilities of open-label placebo treatments can be explored. Studies show that the placebo-response can occur even when the patient is aware of the treatment being a placebo. While this is a potential solution for the ethical problems of placebo treatments, these ‘treatment simulations’ still require a real-life clinical setting and a health care provider. This study focuses on open-label placebo treatment in a virtual setting. A real-world and a virtual treatment simulation were compared to a control condition. The treatment simulations did not have major significant effects on the heart-rate, reaction-time and subjective experience of the participants. Some differences between the conditions indicate that the virtual reality experience may interact with treatment in as of yet unexpected ways. Further study, focused on the specific areas where open-label placebo treatments have been shown to be effective, may clarify whether virtual reality treatment simulations can be used as effective open-label placebos.


Full Reference

Lisa E. Rombout, "Real-world versus Virtual Reality Treatment Simulations", Master's Thesis for the Media Technology programme, Leiden University (The Netherlands), 2015