In the metaverse, a person can choose who they are, where they live, who they interact with, what they wear, what their hobbies are, and can even attend events, visit cultural objects, and, in short, do everything everyone is already doing in real life. In the metaverse, they can be the best version of themselves and live as they please – something that is perhaps unachievable in reality.
It’s no news that social media can be a threat to our psychological health. Yet what about the metaverse, the whole new digital life that one can build in a virtual world through a personalized avatar?
DailyCoin conducted an exclusive interview with a psychology expert, cognitive behavioral psychotherapist Peter Klein about the impact of the metaverse on mental health.
The Human Need to Connect with Others
Modern society relies on various forms of communication, Klein said. Therefore the type of connection people experience can vary tremendously. Studies show that in-person relation with others is the healthiest form of communication and confers most benefits towards mental health.
Due to the globalized and uniform nature of modern society, it is on the one hand harder to achieve face-to-face connection with someone on the other side of the world and at the same time, much easier to relate with each other due to the globalized nature of the world.
“The Metaverse can act as a bridge that facilitates a more personal experience without having to travel. The pandemic and increased decentralised nature of society has provided suitable priming for people to be able to engage with the metaverse,”
In Some Instances the Metaverse Can Help
As Klein explained, numerous mental disorders benefit from using virtual reality. For example, sufferers of social phobia often believe that they are being judged in social situations. They believe that they stand out like a sore thumb and pay too much attention to how they come across. In severe cases, this can make people hyper-focus on every move they make and everything they say.
Virtual reality can aid in connecting with others without the perceived threat of the direct presence of others. This can help sufferers achieve some form of connection with others whilst providing a safe environment to address their anxieties. Individuals suffering from simple phobias such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders) also often find it easier to confront their fears in the VR space compared to in-person exposure.
Dangers of Virtual Reality
Although the metaverse can confer benefits to those suffering from mental health issues, it can also make them worse. If someone is too anxious to leave their home, they may run the risk of over-relying on virtual connections. This can reinforce an in-person absence from the world and create more severe difficulties.
Many studies have shown that in-person connection with others mitigates mental distress and is an essential cornerstone of healthy brain development. Living in the metaverse will therefore be extremely unhealthy if more suitable alternatives are available, Klein suggested.
A healthy existence will always contain some form of pain as this is an essential part of confronting life. Many avoid even simple frustrations such as waiting for a bus by getting their phone out and mindlessly using social media. The connection between frustration and avoidance can become so entrenched that people even find it difficult to tolerate the basic pain of paying attention to something for longer than a few seconds. This can create great damage to society as a whole, especially if the option of escaping is as immersive and tempting as the metaverse.
“I believe the metaverse can confer huge benefits. It can make people connect in a very convenient way. It will however never provide the innumerable benefits of in person connection and is a risky affair for many,”
On the Flipside
- The metaverse can be a safe haven for people facing social-interaction difficulties. However, it can cause feelings of severe detachment from reality and delusion.
- Metaverses are still in their infancy and their psychological impact on people is yet to be seen.