Unlike most people, Arianna Huffington was relatively unfazed when asked to step off the ledge of a 500-foot building, albeit a virtual one.
At Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego on Tuesday, the media mogul served as a guinea pig in a demonstration of how virtual reality can used in the medical field to help people overcome phobias.
The idea is that virtual reality environments can be so convincing that people’s bodies react like they are physically in real-life scenarios, complete with elevated heart rates and sweaty palms. By using technology to immerse people into scary situations, they can learn better coping techniques and apply them to the real world, explained Matthew Stoudt, the CEO of the virtual reality health startup AppliedVR.
For the demonstration, Huffington, the founder of news site Huffington Post, strapped on a VR headset and was hoisted up a digital skyscraper in what resembled a virtual financial district in a bustling metropolis. When Huffington arrived at the 500-feet mark, Stoudt asked her to look around at the surroundings and stare into the virtual abyss below her. He then asked her to take “one large confident step” off the ledge, which Huffington agreed to do. She then plunged to the ground while Stoudt implored her to “look down as you are coming down.”
When the demonstration was over, Huffington brushed her hair, and smiled like she just exited a roller coaster. But Huffington was not distraught or made any physical motion indicating she was stressed, like clutching her heart with her hands.
Instead, she remained calm and cool and explained that while she felt scared prior to her leap and that the free-fall felt “incredibly real,” her training in meditation helped her deal with the virtual ordeal.
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“I think that the reason I was as able to take a step was because I’ve been meditating for many years,” Huffington said. “Part of my training with meditation is to not let outside circumstances affect how I feel.”