VR is a highly persuasive medium capable of having a deep impact on the brain. In VR, the virtual environment is presented to the user in such a convincing way that when the user is immersed in it, the brain completely suspends belief and accepts the simulation as real.

This unconscious acceptance of the simulation is one of the keys that unlock VR’s great potential for training. Several studies show that immersive VR experiences become part of an extensive autobiographical associative network, whereas conventional video sessions are recalled as an isolated episodic event. And what’s even better, this powerful effect shows up even when the simulation consists of simple 360º videos, with no interaction with the virtual world whatsoever.  

In a recent study by Benjamin Schöe of the Institute of Psychology of Osnabrück (Germany), 43 participants were split in two groups. One of the groups was shown a 2D video in front of a 55’ screen, and the other group watched the exact same video in 360º inside an HTC Vive VR headset.

The video was a simple 28-min motorcycle ride in the region of Osnabrück recorded with a Samsung 360 Gear camera. Forty hours later, they performed an unannounced recognition memory task on a 19’ screen that consisted in indicating as quickly as possible whether they recognized the scene or not.

The results are impressive. VR participants performed more than twice as well in the memory task and took significantly longer to reply. This longer response time is a good indicator for a widely ramified network of memory traces in the brain, that come from encoding a much richer experience and the elaborate associative networks that come with it.

The richness and level of detail of the autobiographical memory (PBM) encoded in the VR session clearly promotes a much better recognition abilities as shown in the test, and perform substantially better than the 2D alternatives.


Experiences in Virtual Reality: a window to autobiographical memory.

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