The Influence of Virtual Out-of-Body Experiences on Fear of Death


virtual reality
fear of death
out-of-body experiences
perceptions of mortality

How to Cite

Zhu, J. (2023). The Influence of Virtual Out-of-Body Experiences on Fear of Death. Cornell Undergraduate Research Journal, 2(1), 86–101.


Virtual reality (VR) has a demonstrated capacity to embody participants in a virtual avatar and induce body ownership illusions. Previous research has leveraged avatar embodiment to create virtual out-of-body experiences (OBEs) for participants. These induced experiences have subsequently been linked to influencing participants’ fear of death (FOD). Because perceptions of mortality have important clinical implications for palliative and hospice care, there has been growing research interest in the efficacy of utilizing VR technologies to influence FOD. This exploratory study extends this line of research by examining the impact of VR OBEs on FOD in a between-groups experiment with three conditions: (1) a control condition where participants remained in control of the avatar body; (2) an out-of-body (OBE) experimental condition in which participants drifted out of the avatar body and lost visuotactile contact with their avatar; and (3) a “drifting body” (DBE) experimental condition in which participants drifted out of the avatar body but retained visuotactile contact with their avatar. Preliminary data analysis revealed non-significant reductions in FOD in the OBE and DBE experimental conditions. Furthermore, qualitative measures indicated that participants were more disturbed by the OBE condition than by the DBE condition. We provide a discussion of these results, as well as study limitations and future continuation of research under ideal conditions.


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