Since Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement about the development of new three-dimensional virtual worlds for social communication, a great debate has been raised about the promise of such a technology. The metaverse, a term formed by combining meta and universe, could open a new era in mental health, mainly in psychological disorders, where the creation of a full-body illusion via digital avatar could promote healthcare and personal well-being. Patients affected by body dysmorphism symptoms (i.e., eating disorders), social deficits (i.e. autism) could greatly benefit from this kind of technology. However, it is not clear which advantage the metaverse would have in treating psychological disorders with respect to the well-known and effective virtual reality (VR) exposure therapy. Indeed, in the last twenty years, a plethora of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of VR technology in reducing symptoms of pain, anxiety, stress, as well as, in improving cognitive and social skills. We hypothesize that the metaverse will offer more opportunities, such as a more complex, virtual realm where sensory inputs, and recurrent feedback, mediated by a “federation” of multiple technologies – e.g., artificial intelligence, tangible interfaces, Internet of Things and blockchain, can be reinterpreted for facilitating a new kind of communication overcoming self-body representation. However, nowadays a clear starting point does not exist. For this reason, it is worth defining a theoretical framework for applying this new kind of technology in a social neuroscience context for developing accurate solutions to mental health in the future.


Keywords:

Autism; Body dysmorphism disorders; Mental disorders; Metaverse.



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The promise of the metaverse in mental health: the new era of MEDverse

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