Determining the duration of the change in behaviour would be useful. Anecdotally several parents noted changes that persisted for two to three days (see Appendix L). Of great interest would be to compare the changes in behaviour following a VRDE to those prompted by interacting with live dolphins. Further investigation of the potentially therapeutic aspects of live dolphin encounters would also allow for a more accurate simulation in a virtual reality medium.
If improvements in behaviour are replicated, VRDE could be used to prevent extremes of behaviour in the AD/HD population. Paired with academic material, sustained periods of greater focus could assist in overcoming difficulties that these children tend to encounter with schoolwork. It could also be used as a reward for appropriate behaviour, as the original approach promoted.
Advocates of extending applications of DAT beyond the handicapped population, consider at risk juvenile offenders possible candidates for interacting with dolphins therapeutically (Sebastiani, 1996). Examining behavioural and affective modification for this population after VRDE as well as live dolphin encounters, may indicate if this a worthwhile venture.
Autism is another disorder with an attentional component that has been addressed through VR (North, North & Coble,1996) Autistic individuals who appeared to show some behavioural improvements in previous studies with live dolphins, were thought to require daily reinforcement with dolphins to sustain any therapeutic benefits (Nathanson et al., 1997) (McCulloch, 1998). Subject to further validation of the effectiveness of VRDE, this medium may be a viable alternative which can provide frequent exposure to dolphins as a stimulus or a reinforcer.
Although overt behavioural and affective ramifications of dolphin human interaction have been documented for over two decades, researchers lamented ever identifying causative factors of the phenomenon (AquaThought Foundation, 1997). The establishment of the AquaThought Foundation, an organisation with intentions of physiologically quantifying reported effects of dolphin interaction on humans, instigated renewed interest in pursuing these efforts. Understanding how and why dolphins catalyse behaviour modification in humans, and electronically reproducing these effects for widespread distribution are goals of the foundation (AquaThought Foundation, 1997). By examining frequency mediated effects of biological systems, events occurring at a particular level of biological organization, may reveal ramifications on other levels, with observable behavioural effects instigated by combinations of molecular events (Birch,1997). Far from discounting the importance of psychological findings, this model may augment them by identifying potential underlying psychophysiological mechanisms. To this end, recording ambient echolocative intensities during dolphin presence has been undertaken (AquaThought, 1997). If shown to consistently and predictably correlate with deviation from baseline EEG, another theory of psychophysiological mechanisms of therapeutic dolphin-human interaction could immerge (Cole,1995,1996).
Although the changes in behaviour for both attention deficit and control subjects obtained in the present study is promising, further validation of the therapeutic efficacy of virtual reality and live dolphin interactions are required. The possibilities of human-dolphin interaction have only been hinted at by research undertaken to date. The findings of the present study are a preliminary effort at quantifying the behavioural changes in humans that have been reported following encounters with dolphins. Although further validation is required, the findings of the current study indicate that the presence of live dolphins may not be crucial in instigating behavioural change and that to some extent, the effects are reproducible artificially. Comparison of the present findings with the effects on humans of live dolphin encounters, is required. However, animal captivity, and even eco-tourism endeavours such as wild dolphin swims excursions have their critics, irrespective of noble therapeutic ideals (Hypertrek Feature, undated). If there is a therapeutic component to interacting with dolphins, identifying it, and artificially reproducing it, may be the most viable alternative for humans and dolphins alike.
"to the dolphin alone beyond all other, nature has granted what the best philosophers seek: friendship for no advantage"
Plutarch, 62 AD (On the Cleverness of Animals)
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