Virtual Reality technologies are increasingly being used to create empathy between people. Some programs deal with increasing cooperation between two users trying to complete a task within the same environment. However, increasingly virtual environments are being created to allow family, friends and community of those suffering from a disease to experience the struggles that the patient faces, in turn sensitizing them to the complications of specific disorders.
One example of this is a program created to allow people to experience the fatigue and frustration that comes from the anemia associated with chemotherapy. Participants experiencethe environment from a first person point of view, struggling to move through the environment by pushing on resistant pedals, and hearing the heartbeat grow faster and louder as the avatar tires. Other environments allow caretakers and family members of those with schizophrenia to experience the hallucinations that accompany the disease. Another program allows students to navigate an environment as if in a wheelchair, familiarizing them with the difficulties that their disabled classmates face.
IMI currently uses software developed in Spain for family members of patients with Panic Disorder. Visual and auditory stimuli in the virtual environment simulate the physical symptoms (i.e. palpitations, dizziness, tunnel vision) associated with panic attacks. By experiencing this environment, people can begin to understand the anxiety and symptoms that their loved one faces while struggling with this disorder. All of these environments increase the understanding between individuals and help erase the stigma associated with mental and physical disorders.