Master of Arts
Mindfulness, conceptualized as actively noticing and engaging with oneself and one’s surroundings with a nonjudgmental mind, is associated with many positive outcomes such as healthy relationships, stress reduction, performance engagement, and increased well-being. Virtual reality (VR) technologies offer people immersive experiences to engage with novel environments for entertaining and therapeutic purposes. While in any VR environment, participants may perceive themselves as if they are in the scenes, that is, they experience moment-to-moment awareness and immersion in these virtual environments. Thus, practicing mindfulness meditation with technologies like smartphones and VR has become increasingly popular over the past decade. However, little research has examined VR and mindfulness separate from meditation. Meditation does not appeal to everyone and may even be an adverse experience for people with traumatic histories, thus research examining other ways to cultivate mindfulness is necessary. The current research examined 654 self-report responses regarding people’s VR experiences, personality, and well-being to determine if general VR use was associated with increased mindfulness, and explored if specific personality traits such as openness, empathy, and immersive tendencies was associated with increased VR use and mindfulness. Our results indicated that increased use was not associated with mindfulness, but participants who rated high on their subjective VR experiences (e.g., feelings of self-expansion, presence, enjoyment) scored high on mindfulness as well. Mindfulness itself predicted well-being, but VR use did not and there was no interaction between VR use and mindfulness. Suggestions for how to guide future VR research on mindfulness are provided.
Summary for Lay Audience
Mindfulness has been found to be associated with many positive outcomes such as healthy interpersonal relationships, stress reduction, and increased well-being. Practicing meditation to cultivate one’s mindfulness has become increasingly popular and accessible with technologies like smartphone apps and virtual reality (VR) headsets in recent years. VR involves computer visualization of a simulated (virtual) environment (e.g., nature scene) presented using a headset, typically together with accompanying audio (e.g., birds chirping), and these technologies provide people access to individual or social meditation sessions. However, meditation may not appeal to everyone. Beyond simple disinterest, meditation does not appeal to everyone and may even be an adverse experience for people with traumatic histories. While mindfulness and meditation are sometimes used synonymously, it is crucial to note that mindfulness is conceptualized as actively noticing and engaging with one’s emotions and reactions to everyday events with an open, nonjudgmental mind and meditation is the training of one’s attention, which helps to cultivate mindfulness. While VR technology provides an immersive environment and removes external distractions, few researchers have connected mindfulness to VR use. Furthermore, there may be personal dispositions that influence one’s interest in VR use and mindfulness training, such as being high on openness. The current research examined whether general VR experiences could promote mindfulness and improve well-being because this technology allows people to have novel and fascinating experiences within the context of their choice. Furthermore, this research investigated whether personality traits such as openness, empathy, and immersive tendencies was associated with VR use and mindfulness.
Schaffer, Somer, "Virtual Reality, Mindfulness and Their Associations to Personality Traits" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8785.
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