Challenges and Opportunities of Immersive Technologies for Mindfulness Meditation: A Systematic Review

, , and . Frontiers in Virtual Reality, (2021)
DOI: 10.3389/frvir.2021.644683


Mindfulness is considered an important factor of an individual's subjective well-being. Consequently, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) has investigated approaches that strengthen mindfulness, i.e., by inventing multimedia technologies to support mindfulness meditation. These approaches often use smartphones, tablets, or consumer-grade desktop systems to allow everyday usage in users' private lives or in the scope of organized therapies. Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality (VR, AR, MR; in short: XR) significantly extend the design space for such approaches. XR covers a wide range of potential sensory stimulation, perceptive and cognitive manipulations, content presentation, interaction, and agency. These facilities are linked to typical XR-specific perceptions that are conceptually closely related to mindfulness research, such as (virtual) presence and (virtual) embodiment. However, a successful exploitation of XR that strengthens mindfulness requires a systematic analysis of the potential interrelation and influencing mechanisms between XR technology, its properties, factors, and phenomena and existing models and theories of the construct of mindfulness. This article reports such a systematic analysis of XR-related research from HCI and life sciences to determine the extent to which existing research frameworks on HCI and mindfulness can be applied to XR technologies, the potential of XR technologies to support mindfulness, and open research gaps. Fifty papers of ACM Digital Library and National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine (PubMed) with and without empirical efficacy evaluation were included in our analysis. The results reveal that at the current time, empirical research on XR-based mindfulness support mainly focuses on therapy and therapeutic outcomes. Furthermore, most of the currently investigated XR-supported mindfulness interactions are limited to vocally guided meditations within nature-inspired virtual environments. While an analysis of empirical research on those systems did not reveal differences in mindfulness compared to non-mediated mindfulness practices, various design proposals illustrate that XR has the potential to provide interactive and body-based innovations for mindfulness practice. We propose a structured approach for future work to specify and further explore the potential of XR as mindfulness-support. The resulting framework provides design guidelines for XR-based mindfulness support based on the elements and psychological mechanisms of XR interactions.

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