Physiological and Psychological effects of XR

"A virtual safe space? An approach of intersectionality and social identity to behavior in virtual environments"

Media type: Journal article

Author: Kata Szita (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)

Summary: This paper examines how users' identities are shaped by customization options, community norms, and the influence of avatars as expressions of virtual identities. It throws light on social VR as a "safe space" for experimenting with online personas, highlighting the need for further research on the relationship between body representation, identity, demographic characteristics, and social behavior. The findings affect digital culture, online behavior, and social justice.

Key takeaways:

  • Metaverse interactions are getting integrated into identity because it provides a space for escape from real-world frustration about our self-image and allows us to be our "ideal self" in an extended or virtual reality

Citation: Szita, K. (2022). A virtual safe space? An approach of intersectionality and social identity to behavior in virtual environments. Journal of Digital Social Research, 4(3), 34-55.

"Who Do You Think You Are? What Does Your Avatar Say About You?"

Media type: Blog article

Author: Thomas Deane (TCD)

Summary: Digital avatars serve as more than just a means of artistic expression; they also facilitate both conformity and escapism. These virtual representations significantly impact our interactions with others, ultimately influencing our acceptance or exclusion from social circles

Key takeaways:

  • Humans are neurobiologically incapable right now to differentiate between real-world and virtual stimuli. Therefore, anything 'good' in the MV makes us feel good, while anything 'harmful' in the MV makes us feel at threat.

  • Avatar embodiment reflects what we want to see ourselves as - e.g., better socio-economic status, non-binary genders, and different age representation.

  • This has implications related to brand messaging: since brands own the MV lands, the users will adopt the brand's values, therefore their perception of 'right' and 'wrong' depends heavily on the brand's beliefs. This can be harmful since there is no regulatory legal/ethical body in place right now.

Citation: Deane, T. (2022, September 22). Who do you think you are? What does your avatar say about you? Neuroscience News. Retrieved June 5, 2023, from

"The psychological impact of the Metaverse"

Media type: Research paper

Author: Patrick Henz (Risk and Compliance & Author, Atlanta, USA)

Summary: This paper describes the Metaverse as a network of interconnected virtual worlds that offer immersive experiences, continuity of data, and interoperability. It is anticipated that the Metaverse will have both professional and private applications, ranging from virtual meetings and learning platforms to leisure activities and social interactions. The paper discusses the blurring of boundaries between the physical and virtual realities, the socialization process within the Metaverse, and the potential for AI humanization. It also addresses the phenomenon of cocooning (tendency of individuals to retreat into their private virtual spaces, disconnecting from the physical world and limiting their social interactions to the virtual realm) and the shift from physical to virtual experiences.

Key takeaway:

  • Humanization of AI is resulting in social interactions of humans becoming one-sided emotional investments.

  • Avatars have a ""halo effect"" which leads to increased trust on AI that can provide unconditional attention. Such form of unconditional attention is impossible to receive by a human being and may lead to the consequence that users who spend a longer time with such VR may become unable for developing sustainable relationships with other humans, especially if they already before lacked social skills

  • Therefore individuals' relationship expectations with family, partners and brands becomes unnaturally high - humans would always need to be stimulated in a relationship (especially because of high-stimulation gamification virtually), making it more difficult for them to spend time with just themselves"

Citation: Henz, P. (2022). The psychological impact of the Metaverse. Discover Psychology, 2(1).

"Reinventing yourself in the Metaverse through digital identity"

Media type: Blog article

Author: Rachel Wolfson (Cointelegraph)

Summary: The article discusses how individuals can redefine and shape their identities in the virtual realm, allowing for greater self-expression and exploration. The author highlights potential benefits and challenges of digital identity, emphasizing the importance of privacy, security, and authenticity in creating a meaningful virtual persona. It also delves into the role of technologies like blockchain in enabling secure and verifiable digital identities.

Key takeaways:

  • Web3 allows more 'free' interactions than Web2, which leads to humans being able to do offendable things without having to bear the consequences.

  • Given that most users are adolescents and youth, this can severely impact their identity since psychologically this is the stage of identity and moral development.

  • More emotional attachment imposed on digital items and assets than people.

  • Socio-culturally this can lead to more extremism and polarization of 'right' and 'wrong' resulting in more hate-crimes, cyberbullying and cybercrimes.

Citation: Wolfson, R. (2022, August 11). Reinventing yourself in the Metaverse through digital identity. Cointelegraph. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from

"Time to Think “Meta”: A Critical Viewpoint on the Risks and Benefits of Virtual Worlds for Mental Health"

Media type: Research paper

Author: Vincent Paquin (Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, QC, CA; Lady Davis Research Institute, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, QC, CA; Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Montreal, QC, CA); Manuela Ferrari (Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, QC, CA; Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Montreal, QC, CA), Harmehr Sekhon (Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, QC, CA; Lady Davis Research Institute, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, QC, CA; McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, US); Soham Rej (Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, QC, CA; Lady Davis Research Institute, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, QC, CA; Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Montreal, QC, CA)

Summary: Positive effects of the Metaverse include control, cognitive activation, physical activity, social connections, and a sense of autonomy and competence. However, addiction-like behaviors and avoidance of real-life challenges are potential risks. Time spent in the metaverse may displace other determinants of mental health, such as sleep patterns and offline social capital. Individual differences, such as motivations, developmental stage, and prior mental health, influence the effects. It is crucial for researchers, clinicians, and individuals to collaborate in studying the metaverse's impact on mental health to inform policy-making and counseling.

Key takeaways:

  • While VR is used for therapy in elevating mood (Riches et al., 2021), reducing anxiety and stress levels in the short term, any stressors in VR can actually result in higher levels of subjective distress and paranoia (Veling et al., 2016).

  • Virtual worlds provide users with the ability to choose their avatar's appearance and identity, which can significantly impact how they perceive and engage with their virtual surroundings. Research involving regular video game users indicated that a stronger sense of embodiment with an avatar was linked to reduced awareness of bodily sensations during gaming sessions. Another study involving a group of women from the UK found that decreasing avatar height in a virtual reality game resulted in heightened levels of paranoia and negative social comparison.

  • Engaging in self-exploration and representation in virtual spaces may play a role in the development of social competence, particularly during adolescence. Some experts suggest that conducting identity experiments online could aid in the maturation of social skills. However, excessive investment in self-representation in virtual environments may also lead to negative consequences, such as dissatisfaction with one's physical body. Similar risks have been observed in studies on social media use, where individuals' strong emphasis on seeking feedback on their self-portraits and comparing themselves to others' photographs can contribute to body dissatisfaction and a desire for thinness.

Citation: Paquin, V., Ferrari, M., Sekhon, H., & Rej, S. (2023). Time to think “Meta”: A critical viewpoint on the risks and benefits of virtual worlds for mental health. JMIR Serious Games, 11, e43388.

"Future of mental health in the metaverse"

Media type: Research paper

Author: Sadia Suhail Usmani (Department of Psychiatry, Dow University of Health Sciences, Karachi, Pakistan; Department of Medicine, Insight Hospital & Medical Center Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA), Medha Sharath (Department of Psychiatry, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, Bangalore, Karnataka, India), Meghana Mehendale (Department of Psychiatry, Smolensk State Medical University, Smolensk, Russian Federation)

Summary: VR, AR and MR have been used in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders, showing positive results. These technologies have been seen as a solution to the shortage of mental health professionals and limited access to mental healthcare. However, excessive use of immersive games and social media can have negative effects on mental health (Addiction-like behaviors, Social isolation, Avoidance of real-life challenges, Displacement of offline activities, Insecurity, anxiety, and depression, Attention and cognitive issues).

Key takeaways:

  • The paper cite the concept of the "Proteus effect" which suggests that individuals who invest significant time and effort into crafting their virtual identities tend to adopt the qualities and physical attributes associated with their virtual selves. This, in turn, can lead to notable changes in their behavior.

  • The concept of the Proteus effect was first introduced by Nick Yee and Jeremy Bailenson in 2007. Their research focused on the impact of avatar appearance on individuals' behavior in virtual environments. They found that when people represented themselves with attractive or powerful avatars, they tended to exhibit more confident and assertive behavior. Conversely, when individuals used avatars that were less physically attractive or less socially desirable, they displayed more introverted and submissive behaviors. Usually, people do this with brands, where they try to "hide" behind a brand or use it to protect themselves like an armor because they feel that they are not enough. Having an attractive avatar with brand symbols makes them feel confident about being accepted in a virtual peer network.

Citation: Usmani, S. S., Sharath, M., & Mehendale, M. (2022). Future of mental health in the metaverse. General Psychiatry, 35(4), e100825.

"The dark version of the Metaverse can strip you off your identity"

Media type: Blog article

Author: Arti (

Summary: The article discusses security risks in the metaverse, focusing on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Identity theft and privacy concerns are highlighted, as hackers could exploit AR devices and collect personal data. The immersive nature of the metaverse also poses risks, especially for children who may struggle to differentiate between the real and virtual worlds. The article emphasizes the need for strict security measures to protect users' identities and privacy in the metaverse.

Key takeaways:

  • Identity theft is already a multibillion-dollar industry (approximately US$24 billion), where attackers catfish people by using their data to make online transactions or do other things that the victim would have to suffer consequences for.

  • Victims have claimed feelings of loss, helplessness, anger, isolation, betrayal, rage, and even embarrassment. For some, it was equivalent to trauma and resulted in PTSD-like symptoms. This is interesting because our basic need for safety is what is at cost here, which in an offline world is understandable because our identity is something we have built all our lives. However, in a virtual world, our identity is acquired because we embody a pre-made avatar. A feeling of loss and trauma for identity theft in the Metaverse is a huge signal that by embodying an avatar, we experience almost a 'soul' transfer in a new body altogether, and a feeling of loss of security even in a virtual world could result in it permanently changing parts of our identity that we bring back to the real world.

Citation: Arti. (2022, June 16). The dark version of Metaverse can strip you off your identity. Analytics Insight. Retrieved June 20, 2023, from

"Post VR Sadness: My First Experience with a VR Hangover"

Media type: YouTube video (consumer experience)

Author: Marc Freccero (25.6K subscribers)

  • VR sadness, also known as "VR hangover" or "post-VR sadness," refers to a phenomenon where individuals experience negative emotions or feelings of sadness, disorientation, or unease after using virtual reality (VR) technology. It is an emerging concept associated with the use of immersive VR experiences.

  • VR sadness can occur due to various factors. One possible explanation is the disconnect between the virtual world and real-life experiences. When users spend a significant amount of time in a virtual environment that provides a heightened sense of presence and immersion, returning to the real world can feel mundane or disappointing. This contrast between the virtual and real can lead to a sense of disorientation or unease, which may manifest as feelings of sadness.

  • Another contributing factor to VR sadness may be the potential for motion sickness or simulator sickness. Some individuals may experience discomfort, dizziness, or nausea during or after using VR, which can impact their mood and well-being.

  • Additionally, the content and nature of the VR experience itself can influence the emotional response. If the virtual environment or content triggers negative emotions, fear, or anxiety, it can contribute to post-VR sadness.

  • It is important to note that not everyone experiences VR sadness, and the intensity and duration of these feelings can vary among individuals. Factors such as individual susceptibility, the duration of VR use, and the content being experienced can all play a role in determining the likelihood and severity of post-VR sadness.

  • To mitigate VR sadness, it is recommended to gradually transition from the virtual environment back to reality, allowing time for adjustment. Taking breaks during VR sessions and ensuring proper hydration can also help reduce the likelihood of experiencing negative emotions afterward. Additionally, developers and designers of VR experiences can consider creating content that is emotionally balanced and provides a smoother transition between the virtual and real world.

Citation: Marc Freccero. (2017, March 12). Post VR Sadness: My First Experience with a VR Hangover [Video]. YouTube.

"How Virtual Reality Affects The Brain (Part 1)"

Media Type: YouTube video

Author: The ScienceVerse

Key takeaways:

  • Lesser and more random neuron firing in the hippocampus (memory and spatial computing) when in VR than when in real world, implying that the hippocampus did not know where they are in a virtual world

Citation: The ScienceVerse. (2016, July 10). How Virtual Reality Affects The Brain (Part 1) [Video]. YouTube.

"48 Hours in the Metaverse"

Media type: Indie Documentary

Author/Creator: Briar Prestidge

Summary: "48 Hours in the Metaverse" is a documentary that explores the immersive virtual world and its impact on society. Over a span of 48 hours, individuals delve into the metaverse, experiencing its diverse communities, technological advancements, and ethical considerations. From entertainment and commerce to personal connections, the film offers a glimpse into the possibilities and challenges of this emerging digital realm. Thought-provoking and captivating, it raises questions about digital identity, privacy, and the blending of virtual and physical worlds, providing a window into the future of human interaction.

Key takeaways:

  • Initial attraction in the VR - socializing and awe of exploring a new world

  • In creating the avatar, we need to choose from ready-made symbols that we can customize our avatars with. Briar too was forced to be in the body of a male in one the Meta lands, when she was interacting with other avatars. Had the embodiment been longer, there is a possibility that she would have started identifying with her male avatar, leading to more male-like identity traits

Citation: Briar Prestidge. (2023). 48 Hours in the Metaverse [Official Documentary] [Video]. YouTube.

Last updated