Catalyst Awardee

Project Description

Virtually Young: Can Embodying an Avatar of Your Younger Self Extend Your Healthy Lifespan?

Alexandra Ivanovitch, PhD | Equity Lab Global
Competition Sponsor: U.S. National Academy of Medicine
Awardee Year: 2020

One in four older adults experiences some mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, and dementia. This number is expected to double to 15 million by 2030 (National Council on Aging). We will design, develop and test virtual reality (VR) experiences which will enable older adults to virtually embody computer-generated avatars of their young and healthy selves and engage in a series of stimulating interactive immersive activities in an effort to improve their mental and behavioral health over extended periods of longevity.   Peer-reviewed scientific studies have already repeatedly demonstrated that virtual embodiment can help transform human perception and behavior in the real world in a variety of domains. A landmark Stanford study has shown that embodying older avatars of oneself allows subjects to identify with older adults, reduces ageism and elicits behavioral change: it encourages participants to start saving for retirement. The hypothesis underlying this project is that the opposite is true too.   We will build and test a VR working prototype which will enable older adults to be virtually young again and perform a series of engaging activities such as visiting bucket-list destinations, seeing the great wonders of the world up close, swimming with dolphins, going on a safari together with their friends or family members, planting a flag on the Moon, etc. We will crowdsource desirable content from older adults, build senior-friendly immersive experiences and test their efficacy on a variety of desired outcomes: subjective well-being (Geriatric Depression Scale and Geriatric Anxiety Inventory), social connectedness (Social Connectedness Scale), etc.

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