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Neurophilosophical and Ethical Aspects of Virtual Reality Therapy in Neurology and Psychiatry


Highly immersive virtual reality (VR) systems have been introduced into the consumer market in recent years. The improved technological capabilities of these systems as well as the combination with biometric sensors, for example electroencephalography (EEG), in a closed-loop hybrid VR-EEG, opens up a range of new potential medical applications. This article first provides an overview of the past and current clinical applications of VR systems in neurology and psychiatry and introduces core concepts in neurophilosophy and VR research (such as agency, trust, presence, and others). Then, important adverse effects of highly immersive VR simulations and the ethical implications of standalone and hybrid VR systems for therapy in neurology and psychiatry are highlighted. These new forms of VR-based therapy may strengthen patients in exercising their autonomy. At the same time, however, these emerging systems present ethical challenges, for example in terms of moral and legal accountability in interactions involving “intelligent” hybrid VR systems. A user-centered approach that is informed by the target patients’ needs and capabilities could help to build beneficial systems for VR therapy.

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This work was (partly) supported by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) grant 13GW0053D (MOTOR-BIC) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) grant EXC 1086 BrainLinks-BrainTools to the University of Freiburg, Germany.

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This work was (partly) supported by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) grant 13GW0053D (MOTOR-BIC) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) grant EXC 1086 BrainLinks-BrainTools to the University of Freiburg, Germany.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
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