VR training can boost sense of agency and improve motor control

Posted Feb 4, 2021 by Tim Sandle
New research finds that patients diagnosed with motor dysfunctions are increasing within Japan. This runs in parallel as the population ages as a consequence of rising life expectancy. Virtual reality is one solution.
Man wearing a virtual reality headset outdoors
Man wearing a virtual reality headset outdoors
Pexels / Bradley Hook
One method being tested for rehabilitation is with virtual reality. This is to increase agency in order to aid motor skills. Virtual reality in this context is the application of computer-generated simulations of a three-dimensional image or environment. This representation is one that can be interacted in a means that is real or physical way.
Senses are important. People can not only touch their body, but they can sense it as well. The body continuously processes information in order to inform the brain for sensation like where the limbs are at any time. This is designed to make a person aware of their body and this provides a sense of ownership or agency.
Applications of virtual reality in the medical field include:
Treating chronic pain: Medical virtual reality can help to prevent the brain from processing pain.
Helps in fighting memory loss. Virtual reality is being pioneered in treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Enhanced surgeries: Virtual reality is being used to help guide surgeons in performing medical practices.
The concept of ownership and agency are integrated and connect to motor control. In new research, Tohoku University scientists asked patients to view a computer-generated hand. The researchers independently measured the sense of ownership and agency the patients reported feeling over their hands.
It was found that motor control was improved whenever the patients experienced a sense of agency over the artificial body. This knowledge should help to develop new technologies to help patients to recover.
The research has been published in Scientific Reports. The research is titled "Awareness of voluntary action, rather than body ownership, improves motor control."