PALO ALTO, Calif. (CBS Sacramento) – As engineers and game designers push the technology of Virtual Reality (VR) to its limit, a group of researchers are trying to figure out how the simulated environments affect our brains.
Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab has been creating and studying VR for over a decade.
“One of the things we study is the psychological presence,” Jeremy Bailenson, the director of the lab, told CBS News. “People are often stunned, it [VR] is really intense for them.”
Bailenson says that as VR systems become more commonplace in people’s homes, children will find a way to wear them. So he wants to better understand how developing minds experience and process virtual experiences.
“This could translate to how they play and treat kids in real world experiences,” Bailey told CBS News.
In 2009, the lab published the results of a study that focused on children’s memory and VR. A group of kids were immersed in an underwater ecosystem, “playing with whales,” through VR, and when they were asked about the experience a week later, about half of them said they remembered it as if it actually happened in the physical world.
In the latest round of experiments, lab scientists have partnered with the producers of Sesame Street to see how children react to different characters from the TV show.
Bailenson explained there is a need for a study like this one to provide more data about what the implications, and the dangers, of VR could be for kids.
“What we’re doing with Sesame Street, we’re just exploring what type of [VR] content could be engaging for kids. More importantly, we’re trying to see what’s going to happen to a 5-year-old in general when she puts on the helmet,” Bailenson, referring to the Oculus head mount used in the tests, explained to CBS News.
“Nobody knows, in general we don’t know what happens when a kid puts on a helmet.”
Bailenson noted they’re taking this new study very “slowly” in order to carefully establish the environment of VR for kids.
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