Virtual environment will allow astronauts to reduce anxiety levels

(ORDO NEWS) — NASA‘s long-term plans are to build a lunar base and send people to the Red Planet.

If the Moon is not too far from the Earth, then for the sake of a mission to Mars, astronauts will have to leave their home planet for about three years.

The astronauts will also experience a 20-minute communication delay on this trip.

“For future long-term missions, we won’t have real-time communications or the ability to send out medical aid packages like we do now, so NASA is looking at other methods to help maintain behavioral health and performance,” said Renee Abbott, doctoral student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Texas.

Abbott is working with Dr. Ana Diaz Artiles to solve this problem with virtual reality. In particular, they study the effects of incorporating scents into virtual environments.

Information about the smells we breathe in is sent to the limbic system, the part of the brain associated with emotions and memory.

That’s why a scented candle can remind you of grandma’s homemade cookies, and why perfume can evoke certain emotions.

Abbott and Diaz Artiles are studying the effects of aromas on the psychological state by creating natural environments in virtual reality. Their study differs from previous works in the use of localized aromas.

The user can walk next to the river in a virtual environment and not only hear the sound of rushing water, but also smell the wet grass.

Or going into a forested area, he could smell the fresh scent of pine. This is achieved with hitboxes, which are invisible shapes in the virtual environment that activate when the avatar collides with them.

“We hope that the use of virtual reality to capture nature will benefit astronauts,” said Abbott.

“On Earth, nature has a beneficial effect on us psychologically and physiologically, so we are trying to create a simulation as close to real nature as possible by adding olfactory stimuli.”

As part of the study, Abbott and Diaz Artiles measured users’ anxiety levels before and after they experienced a stressful event.

The results showed that the addition of olfactory stimuli not only reduced users’ anxiety levels after experiencing increased stress, but also reduced their stress and anxiety levels from baseline.

“The results show that the use of multi-sensory VR environments is a promising countermeasure to support behavioral health,” said Abbott.

“We are also going to consider adding other sensory stimuli such as temperature illusions.”


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