“You open your eyes and find out the electricity in the building has been cut off. Then, you hear an emergency evacuation message over the public address system: ‘Fire has broken out. Please evacuate the building immediately.’ While the sound of the emergency alarm keeps ringing in your ears, you follow the emergency signs to exit the building. You keep coughing and barely see what is going on beyond the smoke. After a while, you finally see the exit but encounter an injured person, trapped under a huge cabinet, asking for your help. Facing an agonizing dilemma, you feel light-headed and hear your heart pounding.”
What would you do? Risk your own life to rescue the person or continue on your way pretending not to have seen anything?
Profound Insights into Human Nature
What you just experienced through the text is the virtual-environment-based scenario constructed by a team of neuroscientists in Italy to study costly altruism which entails helping others at a cost to self.
Prior work in this field suggests that empathic concern (EC), a feeling of compassion or sympathy towards someone in need, is a primary motivation that drives costly altruism. However, existing research fails to effectively evoke self-relevance and underscore the “costly” aspect of altruism. This team of neuroscientists verifies that virtual reality (VR) with contextually abundant settings possesses a high degree of ecological validity and thus can significantly improve upon extant research.
In the aforementioned virtual environment, by pressing a button 150 times, each participant is able to move away the cabinet and rescue the avatar, one of the four computer-controlled avatars that is said to be controlled by another participant in another place and that each participant previously interacted with in a virtual room before the fire breaks out. In the debriefing session, none of the participants reported that they doubted the fact that the avatars are controlled by computer, manifesting that EC is effectively triggered even in a virtual world.
Not only have the experimenters been able to construct a dilemmatic frame with high ecological validity, but also they have been able to elicit more original and visceral responses by imbuing a sense of presence via VR; the results show that the participants were less likely to demonstrate costly altruism in a virtual setting (65%) than in a hypothetical text-based scenario (91%).
As in this research, VR can provide a mediated yet immersive environment to offer profound insights into human study such as Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience and Behavioral Science. Even more life-changing innovation that VR brings into research is its ability to alter behavior and cognition of an individual.
Cognitive and Behavioral Transformation
In University College London, an interesting psychological research on overcoming excessive self-criticism was conducted in VR. In this experiment, the research team recruited female participants with excessive self-criticism. To begin with, each female participant is instructed to wear a head-tracked head-mounted display and a body-tracking suit so that her virtual body is spatially coincides with her real body. The VR session of the experiment is composed of four stages.
The first stage (Image A) allows each participant to get accustomed to the virtual environment and her virtual body by making gestures, looking around surroundings, and looking at her own avatar in the mirror — all of which are designed to intensify a sense of embodiment.
When each participant enters the second stage, she sees, from the first person perspective of her own avatar, a seated child avatar crying into its hands (Image B). Then, she is instructed to deliver compassionate comments to soothe the crying child. While she calms down the child, the child is programmed to respond accordingly in different stages, from crying into its hands to sitting upright and elevating its head. All the movements and voice coming from each participant are recorded during this stage.
For the third stage, each participant goes through a perspective change: one group experiences the first person perspective (1PP) of the child avatar (Image C) and another group experiences the third person perspective (3PP) facing both her own avatar and the child avatar at a 1-meter distance apart (Image D). Then, each participant is given some time to assimilate to a new perspective.
At the last stage, each participant experiences a real-time replay of her compassion, which she delivered to the child at the second stage, from the child’s perspective (1PP) or from the observer’s perspective (3PP) depending on her group.
It is a seemingly rather complicated experiment, but the result offers some key takeaways for excessive self-criticism. Mere observation and practice of delivering compassionate comments reduced self-criticism, and the additional experience of receiving the compassion and care from one’s own self from the child avatar’s perspective (1PP) boosted more self-compassion and feelings of being safe than when one experienced it from the observer’s perspective (3PP). These key takeaways imply an unlimited potential of VR for treating and studying not only psychological disorders such as phobias and PTSD but also clinically-relevant emotions other than fear and anxiety.
A Bright Future Ahead
Over the last few years, VR industry has put its best foot forward to ramp up VR applications. VR companies have rolled out some decent consumer products — Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream — and have generated enthusiasm among VR adherents. Due to their efforts and advocacy, the concept of VR, which has been considered a distant future, has come to the fore for the public.
Nevertheless, despite of VR hype, VR has been only perceived as a new digital entertainment platform for movies and games. It is not until very recently that VR has received huge attention from many researchers in a variety of fields — a plethora of research and studies leveraging virtual environment have been published and numerous academic conferences have spotlighted VR as the next big milestone. In fact, utilizing VR technology, researchers can design more engaging experiments to obtain new insights into the human body and mind and transform human cognition and behavior to enhance the lives of people. Yes, by all means, VR can render a greater breadth and depth to your research. So what are you waiting for? Embrace VR. Join the bright future ahead.
Crack the Shell of Oculus VR Headset Line-up: How Oculus is Preparing to Democratize the Virtual Reality Market
At Facebook’s Oculus Connect 4, Oculus VR’s annual conference, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Oculus Go, $199 all-in-one untethered VR headset. Now, VR is poised to enter the mainstream with the roll-out of this attractively priced VR headset.
Introduction to VR Landscape: VR Companies’ Big Betting for Standalone Headsets
In the VR landscape, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, both debuted in 2016, have been old enemies in successfully delivering completely absorbing VR experience. While the high-end VR industry faced obstacles on its journey to going mainstream, the phone-based VR like Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Daydream have been widely adopted thanks to their much lower prices. In particular, as Google rolled out to expand its Daydream VR platform to be available on Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note8 beyond niche Android phones, Google ecosystem has become emerging threats to Samsung’s Gear VR powered by Facebook-owned Oculus.
Since buying a mobile VR headset such as $79 Daydream View and $129 GearVR isn’t a huge investment, entry barriers to buy one of them are very low. However, these mobile VR headsets are less comfortable than PC-based high-end devices — Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — because of the pressure from the weight of an entire smartphone on the front part of the user’s face as well as less sophisticated technical completion they offer. In the midst of growing competition for being the market leader in VR, the idea of a standalone VR headset is a great big pie that will only grow larger for fans of VR. Intel was the first to kick off its Project Alloy for an all-in-one merged reality solution although the project was killed earlier this year. Also, Google announced that it would offer a new standalone VR headset in concurrence with HTC Vive and Lenovo at Google I/O conference. Last but not least, recently, at Facebook’s Oculus Connect 4, Oculus VR’s annual developer conference, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Oculus Go, $199 all-in-one untethered VR headset as well.
Moving into a New Phase of Ascension: Loosen the Belt of Partnership?
As Samsung, Oculus’ major ally that has successfully promoted the Gear VR far better than Oculus, recently joined to support Google’s Daydream view, the strong relationship between Oculus and Samsung moved into a new phase. Firstly, Oculus doubled its VR hardware lineup by adding two new headsets — a full motion tracking wireless headset codenamed Santa Cruz and Oculus Go featuring built-in display and electronics. Thanks to its four different lineup — Gear VR, Go, Santa Cruz, and Rift, in case Samsung discontinues to produce GearVR and fully supports Daydream, Oculus would still have its own mobile VR headset category to support its developer ecosystem.
As a sign of Samsung’s ambition to directly compete with the Rift for hardware sales, Samsung recently introduced its premium Odyssey VR headset which will run on the Windows 10 platform. Samsung’s Odyssey will be a flagship headset for Microsoft’s mixed reality platform and spur Microsoft on a strong brand power along with Oculus and Google in the VR landscape. However, Oculus officially mentions that its relationship with Samsung is stronger than ever. Oculus even provides its’ biggest VR platform update called Rift Core 2.0 to Gear VR headset right from the word go, which will bring new VR experience with Dash, enabling existing menus and UI in the dashboard for multi-tasking to be more magical just like in Minority Report. In addition, not only did Facebook’s VR chief Hugo Barra say that Oculus Go and Santa Cruz are not supposed to replace the Rift and GearVR, but also Oculus CTO John Carmack consistently praised Samsung about its ability to distribute Gear VR to a wide range of customers.
Oculus is Preparing to Democratize the Virtual Reality Market
VR is a platform that may change the life of billions of people, but the current VR user base is certainly too small to survive the hype cycle. Even if a VR game is released for several different VR headsets such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, it’s difficult to be profitable. That’s why Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who believes VR is the next big thing, declared Facebook’s mission to get a billion people into virtual reality. As a first step, Mark Zuckerberg announced competitive pricing for its existing high-end hardware Oculus Rift and Touch controller bundle at $399, much cheaper compared to $599 HTC’s Vive. Furthermore, $199 Oculus Go will fill the “sweet spot” between expensive, high-end Oculus Rift and cheap, lightweight Gear VR. Oculus is also building the next generation of a standalone higher-end hardware Santa Cruz, a lot like wireless Rift. At Oculus Connect 4, Oculus CTO Carmack hinted that Oculus Go and the Santa Cruz will converge eventually.
HTC Vive is hot on the trail of Oculus by officially unveiling its standalone VR headset powered by Google Daydream at the Vive developer conference on November 14 as well. The announcement will come after the release of Oculus Go. We’re expecting the technical maturity of those standalone VR headsets and looking forward to seeing how these can change the VR market landscape. For now, it is still unclear how long it will take to get a billion people into VR and whom we shall bet on to win this horse racing. Yet, here is what we can definitely bet on: this sort of hard work by not only Oculus but also other competitors such as HTC Vive with Google Daydream will bring VR into the real world and democratize the VR market in the near future.
Looxid Labs is a tech start-up to seamlessly integrate an emotion recognition system with VR (virtual reality) using eye and brain interface. We are making a big splash to develop world’s first technology that seamlessly
integrates an emotion recognition system with VR using eye-brain interface and thus contributes to developing a completely new VR interaction technique.
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