Insight 20223
August 31 – September 3 in Berlin
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Dissolving Egoic Identity to Sense Connection: Multi-person VR can Elicit Peak Experiences Comparable to Psychedelics

  • 11/09/2021
  • 9:30 - 10:00
  • Track 3: Albrecht Kossel room (Charité)


COVID-related restrictions have left people feeling isolated and disconnected. Psychedelic drug (YD) research has highlighted the healing potential of connectedness and diminished egoic attachment, which often arises during YD ‘peak experiences’, and is characterized by a sense of connectedness, transcendence, and ineffability.

Inspired by these observations, we set out to investigate the extent to which both YDs and virtual reality can be situated on a broader spectrum of psychedelic technologies. Specifically, we designed “Isness”, a multi-person VR (virtual reality) framework that enables participants to cohabit the same virtual space, and experience the collective emergence, fluctuation, and dissipation of their bodies as energetic essences. During and N=57 study [1] and N=58 study, [2] we analyzed the Isness participants’ peak experience using the MEQ30, a commonly used YD experience questionnaire. The results were comparable to those reported in double-blind studies after moderate-to-high doses of psilocybin. Representation as energetic essences seemed to weaken participants’ attachment to aspects of egoic identity and facilitate a sense of connectedness, which was particularly poignant during moments of “energetic coalescence” with others.

Within a supportive setting and a well-defined conceptual framework, these results suggest that VR can be designed to create the conditions for peak experiences from which participants derive insight and meaning, opening up interesting new research directions exploring how perceptual phenomenology in VR might enable new therapeutic tools.

[1] D. R. Glowacki et al, Isness: Using Multi-Person VR to Design Peak Mystical-Type Experiences Comparable to Psychedelics, arXiv: 2002.00940, CHI ’20: Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, doi: 10.1145/3313831.3376649

[2] D. R. Glowacki et al, Dissolving yourself in connection to others: shared experiences of ego attenuation and connectedness during group VR experiences can be comparable to psychedelics, arXiv:2105.07796, 2021

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