iVR-fNIRS: studying brain functions in a fully immersive virtual environment


Immersive virtual reality (iVR) employs head-mounted displays or cave-like environments to create a sensory-rich virtual experience that simulates the physical presence of a user in a digital space. The technology holds immense promise in neuroscience research and therapy. In particular, virtual reality (VR) technologies facilitate the development of diverse tasks and scenarios closely mirroring real-life situations to stimulate the brain within a controlled and secure setting. It also offers a cost-effective solution in providing a similar sense of interaction to users when conventional stimulation methods are limited or unfeasible. Although combining iVR with traditional brain imaging techniques may be difficult due to signal interference or instrumental issues, recent work has proposed the use of functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) in conjunction with iVR for versatile brain stimulation paradigms and flexible examination of brain responses. We present a comprehensive review of current research studies employing an iVR-fNIRS setup, covering device types, stimulation approaches, data analysis methods, and major scientific findings. The literature demonstrates a high potential for iVR-fNIRS to explore various types of cognitive, behavioral, and motor functions in a fully immersive VR (iVR) environment. Such studies should set a foundation for adaptive iVR programs for both training (e.g., in novel environments) and clinical therapeutics (e.g., pain, motor and sensory disorders and other psychiatric conditions).