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When Virtual Reality Feels Real
05-16-2009, 03:58 AM,
When Virtual Reality Feels Real
When Virtual Reality Feels Real

ScienceDaily (May 13, 2009) — Despite advances in computer graphics,
few people would think virtual characters or objects are real. Yet
placed in a virtual reality environment most people will interact with
them as if they are really there. European researchers are finding out

In trying to understand presence – the propensity of humans to respond
to fake stimuli as if they are real – the researchers are not just
gaining insights into how the human brain functions. They are also
learning how to create more intense and realistic virtual experiences,
opening the door to myriad applications for healthcare, training,
social research and entertainment.

“Virtual environments could be used by psychiatrists to help people
overcome anxiety disorders and phobias... by researchers to study
social behaviour not practically or ethically reproduced in the real
world, or to create more immersive virtual reality for entertainment,”
explains Mel Slater, a computer scientist at ICREA in Barcelona and
University College, London, who led the team behind the research.

Working in the EU-funded Presenccia project, Slater and his team,
drawn from fields as diverse as neuroscience, psychology,
psychophysics, mechanical engineering and philosophy, conducted a
variety of experiments to understand why humans interpret and respond
to virtual stimuli the way they do and how those experiences can be
made more intense.

For one experiment they developed a virtual bar, which test subjects
enter by donning a virtual reality (VR) headset or immersing
themselves in a VR CAVE in which stereo images are projected onto the
walls. As the virtual patrons socialise, drink and dance, a fire
breaks out. Sometimes the virtual characters ignore it, sometimes they
flee in panic. That in turn dictates how the real test subjects,
immersed in the virtual environment, respond.

Panic and pain... virtually

“We have had people literally run out of the VR room, even though they
know that what they are witnessing is not real,” says Slater. “They
take their cues from the other characters.”

In another instance, the researchers re-enacted controversial
experiments conducted by American social psychologist Stanley Milgram
in the 1960s that showed people’s propensity to follow orders even if
they know what they are doing is wrong. Instead of using a real actor,
as Milgram did, the Presenccia team used a virtual character to which
the test subject was instructed to give progressively more intense
electric shocks whenever it answered questions incorrectly. The howls
of pain and protest from the character, a virtual woman, increased as
the experiment went on.

“Some of the test subjects felt so uncomfortable that they actually
stopped participating and left the VR environment. Around half said
they wanted to leave, but said they did not because they kept telling
themselves it wasn’t real,” Slater says.

All had physical reactions, measured by their skin conductivity,
perspiration and heart rate, showing that, at a subconscious level,
people’s responses are similar regardless of whether what they are
experiencing is real or virtual. The plausibility of the events
enhances the sense that what is happening is real. Plausibility,
Slater says, is therefore more important to presence than the quality
of the graphics in a VR environment.

For example, when a test subject was made to stand on the edge of a
virtual pit, staring down at an 18-metre drop, their level of anxiety
increased if they could see dynamically changing shadows and
reflections of their virtual body even if the graphics were poor. In
other experiments, the researchers made people believe that a virtual
hand was their own – replicating in VR the so-called “rubber hand
illusion” – or that they were looking at themselves from another
angle, creating a kind of out-of-body experience. In one trial, they
even gave male test subjects a woman’s body.

Help with phobias and paranoia

By understanding what makes people perceive virtual objects and
experiences to be real, the researchers hope to create applications
that could revolutionise certain psychiatric treatments. Patients with
a fear of spiders or heights, for example, could be exposed to and
helped to overcome their fears in virtual reality. Similarly people
who are shy or paranoid about public speaking could be helped by
having to face virtual people and crowds.

“One application we are working on is designed to help shy men
overcome their fear of meeting women by making them interact with a
virtual woman,” Slater says.

The technology is also being used for social research which, much like
the Milgram experiments, would not be practical or ethical to conduct
in the real world. One experiment due to be run at University College,
London, will use a virtual environment to study how people respond to
violence in public places, such as a bar fight between football

Besides healthcare and research, more immersive VR would also help in
training, potentially greatly improving the results of flight or
driving simulators. Slater also envisions VR environments being used
to train people to use prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs through mind
control before trying them out in the real world. A brain-computer
interface (BCI) developed for just such a purpose was tested in the
Presenccia project and in a similarly named predecessor called
Presencia, which received funding under the EU’s Sixth and Fifth
Framework Programmes for research, respectively.

Though immersive VR is likely to have many applications in healthcare,
research and training, the biggest market is probably entertainment.
With the cost of VR technology coming down, people could eventually be
exploring virtual worlds and interacting with virtual characters and
other people through VR rooms in their homes akin to the “holodecks”
seen in Star Trek, Slater says.

Adapted from materials provided by ICT Results.
05-17-2009, 02:37 PM,
When Virtual Reality Feels Real
VR is a no go until they can mimic focal length per pixel. thats why people get headaches when they wear one.

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