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What Happens When Virtual Reality Gets Too Real


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    Jeremy Bailenson, founder of the Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab, left, watching a participant at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

A researcher is convinced virtual reality experiences can change users' thinking and behavior.

Credit: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Researchers at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab have been studying virtual reality (VR) technology for the past 13 years, and lab director and professor Jeremy Bailenson is convinced VR experiences can change users' thinking and behavior.

Researchers say the ability of VR to support more lifelike experiences than TV and other technologies, and make users active instead of passive participants, could impact their outlook and perspectives to the degree it presents an issue for the industry as it grows.

One test in the Stanford lab determined test subjects who had just cut down a virtual tree used fewer paper towels when cleaning up a spill after the experience than subjects who had not felled a tree. In another example, French students developed a harrowing VR simulation of being in one of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Some developers aim to tap VR's lifelike nature to help users overcome phobias. Meanwhile, long-term disconnection could become especially relevant if users start spending prolonged periods in VR.

As the technology matures, "you're going to have this alternate reality...that you start spending more and more time in," says Facebook's Brendan Iribe. "At least that's what science fiction says we're going to do."

From The Wall Street Journal
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