How Does VR Tricks Your Brain? Today, I’m with you to discuss virtual reality and how what happens inside this headset can influence what happens in the real world. Most of you have probably had some kind of VR experience by now, but for those of you who haven’t, it’s difficult to imagine how strapping goggles to your face might make you feel anything other than socially awkward.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality, or VR, is made up of the terms “virtual” and “reality,” which mean “near-reality” when added together. Our senses of smell, perceptions, sight, touch, feel, and taste help us perceive and comprehend our surroundings.
Our sensory organs gather this information, which is then processed by our brain, after which the body reacts and interprets what is going on around us.
Even if we are not physically present at the venue, VR allows us to have the same experience. Virtual Reality can be described as the use of computer technology to construct a simulated world. Virtual Reality uses VR accessories such as 3D goggles, VR headsets, controllers, VR Treadmills, VR backpacks, VR ready laptops and more to enable people to interact in a 3D world.
What to Expect From VR in the Future?
VR will have a significant effect on different industries in the coming years. Let us look at some of the industries where we can expect growth in VR applications:
- Future Video Conferencing
- Training and development
Can Virtual Reality Change Your Mind?
People are continually shocked by how real and visceral it already feels, even with today’s primitive technology. The question that seems to make people wonder is, what happens if it’s so real that we can’t tell the difference anymore?
But my point today isn’t about how rapidly technology progresses, because I believe we already know that. My point is that to use these new capabilities to drive society forward over the next five years, we’ll have to open up our thoughts in radically new ways. I’ve been using virtual reality (VR) to help businesses see and test the future over the past few years.
This means that we iterate in virtual reality even before something is constructed physically. And this enables leaders to learn more quickly and make decisions based on more than intuition, such as empathy and data.
In my line of work, I get to expose a lot of people to virtual reality for the first time, and I’ve discovered that a lot of people are unaware that it can be used for more than just games and entertainment.
But what if I told you that the NFL, NBA, and US Olympic Ski Team all practice with virtual reality? Or that Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen are using it to reinvent not just the car-buying experience, but also how cars are built in the first place.
What if I told you that virtual reality can potentially be used to help people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease manage their stress and anxiety? Or that virtual reality is a viable alternative to morphine? If you’re shocked by all of these, you’re certainly not alone. But I have a couple of other examples I’d like to share with you today.
But, before I go into that, let’s take a step back and look at why VR is capable of doing these things. Presence – not as in birthday gifts, but as in the sensation of being somewhere – is a key element in virtual reality. It’s not something we think about every day, but it’s our brain’s way of letting us know that an experience is real and that we’re not just looking at an image or reading a book.
Virtual reality activates our motor cortex and sensory system in a similar way to a real-life experience. You may not be able to see someone experiencing presence from an outside observer, but you can see the physiological and emotional responses that arise as a result.
Now, if any of you have done VR before, you may have felt something like this: [Oh my gosh] [No] [It’s too real] [My palms are sweaty] [That is so cool] [I’ll have to go back] [Nhah I don’t want to] [Fast breathing] [Gasp, oh my god].
So, aside from the ability to make people swear and sweat profusely, what is the significance of presence and how is it expected to benefit people? That is, in reality, a fascinating question that is bringing together researchers from all over the world and from a wide range of disciplines. As it turns out, as we achieve presence in virtual reality, our brains become more accurate at encoding memories.
According to some fascinating research from the University of Maryland, learning in virtual reality increases memory performance by around 9% compared to learning on a flat screen. Meanwhile, a study conducted by STRIVR, a virtual reality company, found that recall and response times improved by 12%.
On the surface, those numbers may not seem to be important, but in the correct situation, they can easily mean the difference between winning and losing. In extreme cases, this may mean the difference between life and death.
VR also provides a secure place for people to practice activities that would otherwise be prohibitively costly, unsafe, or dangerous to duplicate. This could be for anything from running heavy equipment to performing life-saving surgery to rescuing hostages to preparing for Black Friday.
Surprisingly, Walmart’s virtual reality training program has been so successful that it has expanded from 30 locations to nearly 200 since it started in 2016. And there was an overwhelmingly positive response from employees.
VR is also showing promise in the fields of cognitive and behavioral therapy due to its ability to tap into brain pathways. To put it in perspective, one out of every five people in the United States suffers from a mental illness.
This has a major effect not only on their lives but also on the lives of those around them. In terms of lost productivity and medical expenditures, it is expected to cost $467 billion. Prescription medications, sadly, are one of the most popular remedies available today. According to studies, virtual reality can be a viable option in a variety of situations.
VR Applied to Health Care:
- Pain Management.
- Phobias & PTSD.
- Stress Management.
- Addictions (i.e. Drugs & Alcohol).
- Surgical Training & Planning.
- Physical Rehabilitation.
- Cognitive Rehabilitation.
- Optical Rehabilitation.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- Attention Deficit Disorder.
- Neuropsychological Assessments.
- Cognitive Training Wellness.
- Sports Training.
- Disability Solutions.
- Speech Therapy.
- Mood Disorders.
- Senior Care.
Digital environments may be customized to treat a variety of conditions, including those mentioned above, using a variety of strategies such as exposure therapy, distraction therapy, and neurofeedback.
While some of these fields have made more progress than others, the fact that virtual reality can be considered a potential alternative for some of these health issues cannot be understated. And it only goes to show how much more there is to think about the human mind.
VR is certainly a field to be observed in wearable technology in healthcare. embodiment is another subject that is actually relevant for VR. embodiment can also be defined as the feeling of power and agency within your body. But it’s not anything like the presence that we normally hear about every day. Yet the view of the world and us is enormously influenced.
An example of this is called ‘rubber hand illusion,’ which illustrates just how the brain can actually alter what it sees. And watch it closely if you haven’t seen it before.
Researchers with VR can do this not only with one limb but with the whole of your body. So your brain begins to adjust and think that it is your corps after a few minutes in RV. For example, research from the virtual human interaction laboratory at Stanford shows that an elderly person’s behavior is dramatically influenced even by a brief incarnation inside his/her avatar.
A project called 1,000 Cut Journey from the University of Columbia truly enables you to witness injustice firsthand from a Black boy’s perspective as he grows up with unfair treatment without options.
There’s still a lot to learn and improve on in this field, but one thing is clear: Embodiment in VR can induce a level of empathy and comprehension that’s superior to any other type of communication available today. Another benefit is that it will assist us in better understanding our own self-perception.
It’s common knowledge that people with eating disorders have a persistently skewed perception of their body size. Researchers from the Netherlands were able to demonstrate in a 2016 study that by placing people in a healthy-sized avatar, they could reduce their overestimation of their own body size and thereby increase their self-body image.
Surprisingly, it was discovered that the modifications remained after the headset was removed. Researchers from the University of Barcelona explored the impact of self-counseling in virtual reality in a separate report. Participants were asked to share some real-life problems in the form of an avatar that looked like them.
They would then hear the recording played back of themselves, as seen through Freud’s eyes. After offering advice, they would swap back into their own bodies and hear their own advice, albeit at a lower pitch, as Freud did.
So the conclusion from this experiment is that getting outside of one’s self in VR can provide enough of a paradigm shift to fundamentally alter a person’s thinking and that while we can take our own advice, it’s sometimes more powerful when it comes from someone else.
These kinds of discoveries are vital because, as many of you know, our own understanding and self-image can be the most difficult challenge to conquer. There’s still a lot of work to be done in this field, but it’s interesting to see how virtual reality can promote and accelerate this kind of learning. It offers us a concrete way to start testing and understanding the gaps in what we think, experience, and believe we already know. Not by force or manipulation, but through the power of perspective, VR can help usher in new insights and improvement.
So far, I’ve shown you a few examples of how virtual reality is having real-world effects, but I’d like to close with a personal story. As a boy, I used to enjoy reading “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. For those that haven’t heard of them, they’re paperback books that encourage you to make decisions while reading and take on the role of the protagonist.
And each of these decisions has the potential to change the story in a variety of ways. These choices include things like “open the door and walk in,” or “turn around and go the other way.” When I was a child, I used to go through and mark all of the pages with choices so that I could follow the branches and understand the consequences of my choices.
I was thrilled at the time because I thought I was getting 40 books for the price of one, but in fact, I was checking all of my options to achieve the best result.
Every day, we all choose our own adventures, but our decisions are often influenced by events in the past. And that can keep us from seeking our own futures in the first place. And, unlike novels, many of our stories are still unfinished.
But what if virtual reality allowed us to explore and try out various futures? What if we had the opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes physically, not just conceptually? And how will our lives improve until we can see our own minds, egos, and flaws from a different perspective? Whatever happens within this headset will alter the course of history.
How Does Virtual Reality Tricks Your Brain
Virtual Reality communicates to your brain in a different way than looking at a screen. When we look at a screen, such as our TV or phone, our brains interpret it as a flat image, just like when we look at a picture.
You may not feel the need to take a step back or move out of the way if an object on a screen gets bigger or smaller, or if a person on TV steps toward the camera, but you might in VR because you’re not looking at one screen — you’re looking at two — and those two screens are actually right in front of your eyes.
Projecting a slightly different image into each eye. This is how our vision works in the real world — each eye takes in stimuli from a slightly different vantage point. Hold your finger up in front of your face and wink each of your eyes to see if this is true.
Your finger should “jump” back and forth. The difference between what your left and right eyes see is the “jump.” The differences between what your eyes see convey depth. It conveys three dimensions. Stereopsis is the term for this effect, and VR developers have spent a lot of time honing it.
But, if you can’t step through it, what use is depth? This brings us to the next most important way virtual reality tricks your brain: you are the camera and it’s fast enough where your brain starts interpreting it as your perspective.
Head tracking in virtual reality helps users to look and walk through a virtual environment in the same way they would in real life. You can see more of the world to your left if you look left. And if you look down… (Screams) Ah. Okay, maybe don’t look down.
Other subtle effects, such as 360 audio, which is a major part of the plank experience, make virtual environments feel more physical. The wind will shift when you turn your back. The plank creaks, and if you listen carefully, you will hear a pulse steadily pick up.
All of these new, interactive stimuli cause our brain to assume that this is true. Over the last 150 thousand years, our brain has never really learned to differentiate between computer-generated content and the real world.
Dr. Frank Steinicke has spent nearly two decades exploring interactive technology such as virtual reality. If all of the cues we receive from the virtual environment are so close to the cues we receive in the real world, it’s understandable that we can’t tell them apart.
Our brains quickly adapt to virtual environments largely because they’re wired to trust our sense of sight. There’s some research showing that approximately 80 percent of all the information that we perceive from our environment is based on vision only.
And this helps VR developers to manipulate our reality much further: we discovered about ten years ago that directing users on a circular arc with a radius of 20 meters has no chance of being detected. When they see a straight path in the virtual environment, they walk in a circle in the real world.
You can walk around an entire virtual city without ever having to leave your place. Our minds then go on to fill in some other blanks until we assume the environment is real and agree that we’re actually in it: there have been some fascinating results that if you’re in the virtual world in a very cold or icy environment, people feel cool, even if they’re in the real world and possibly in a hot environment.
Aside from games, VR has shown a lot of potential in the medical field, from minimizing pain for burn patients by immersing them in a snowy environment while their bandages are adjusted to exposure therapy, which helps people with phobias and body dysmorphia.
It’s also been used for physical therapy, such as aiding the balance of elderly people. We’re all tethered to a system and wearing a headset over our heads right now. The graphics are good, but not flawless, so we’re not totally immersed while we’re hovering 80 stories above the ground — assuming we remember to remove the headset.
Steinicke warns that this might not always be the case. We can easily foresee that in the next five to ten years, we won’t be able to tell the difference between computer-generated and real-world content visually. There is also a slew of legal issues to consider.
For the time being, virtual reality (VR) does not appear to be exactly like reality, but it does obey many of the rules that our brain has learned to interpret as actual, which is sometimes enough to make us sweat.