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Science & Education
University of Southern California

In partnership with the university-affiliated Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), the University of Southern California (USC) has spent years researching and developing simulated environments. By being immersed in a computer-generated version of a stressful situation, students and patients can learn about and overcome otherwise debilitating emotional responses such as the depression and flashbacks experienced by sufferers of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

Challenge

Computer generated images of wartime
help PTSD patients recover.
To create real-life emotional responses requires visually believable virtual worlds. The therapist must be able to interactively control the scene, introducing stimuli based on the patient's reactions. Real-time scene rendering with high-quality visual quality previously required high-end server systems. Dr. Skip Rizzo and his team wanted a solution that could be more broadly deployed.

Solution

Realistic view from the
tanker driving position.
By leveraging the work being done by Jarrell Pair at ICT, Rizzo and his team are now able to take advantage of a solution based on NVIDIA graphics technology. The NVIDIA platform allowed ICT to leverage a wealth of video game virtual content. In a project sponsored by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the ICT team recycled the virtual art assets designed for the combat video game "Full Spectrum Warrior" to recreate battlefield scenes, required for treating soldiers with PTSD. Other civilian applications are being deployed by Rizzo and other clinical psychologists. For example, this immersive exposure therapy technique is being used to treat fire fighters affected by the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001.

Impact

Realistic image from
the top of a tanker.

A psychologist himself, Rizzo believes virtual reality therapy is so effective because it can place patients in simulated environments that help them to recall and process painful memories rather than avoid them. In traditional talk therapy, Rizzo said, "you're asking somebody who's been traumatized by an environment to imagine it in the great detail needed to produce a therapeutic habituation effect. With virtual reality, we know what the person is seeing and can present relevant stimuli at a pace that the patient can handle." Sounds are also very important for emotion. According to Rizzo, "The sound of a bullet flying by can raise someone's arousal level in a way that maybe a visual might not." Future upgrades will include smells like gasoline, burning rubber and gunpowder-important because smell is so tightly linked to memory and emotion.

More Information
For more information, please visit http://www.ict.usc.edu

Images courtesy of USC.







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