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Your choice of virtual environments and avatars can promote positive psychological outcomes when using virtual reality headsets.
They examined how being able to completely transform one’s appearance and digital environment has a significant impact on social interactions in the metaverse.
The researchers wrote in a blog post that the ability to transform your appearance into an avatar and experience outdoor environments in virtual reality can have profound impacts for users of the metaverse – the term for immersive virtual worlds, such as those experienced via virtual reality headsets, where people increasingly congregate to play and work, the researchers said.
Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab
When participants were in “outdoor” VR environments surrounded by images of nature, they said the experience was more restorative and provided greater pleasure than when they were in VR environments. “interiors”.
“In the metaverse, you can be anyone or anywhere,” study lead author Eugy Han, a doctoral student in communications, said in a statement. “Our ongoing work reported in this study shows who and where you are matters tremendously for learning, collaboration, socialization, and other metaverse activities.
Han was advised by Jeremy Bailenson, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Sciences.
The study, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, is the latest to come out of Stanford University’s innovative Virtual People course. Taught by Bailenson and his colleagues, the course is among the first and largest ever taught primarily in virtual reality, the researchers said.
For the study, 272 college students used VR headsets to meet in virtual environments for 30 minutes once a week for eight weeks. During these sessions, students participated in two experiments, accumulating hundreds of thousands of minutes of interactions for researchers to analyze.
Real Benefits of Virtual Environments
One experiment assessed the effects of where students were, in a range of digital environments. The other experiment assessed the effects of who the students were, via how they presented themselves as avatars, the researchers said.
In the experience focused on virtual environments, students interacted in small or spacious virtual environments, both indoors and outdoors. The researchers created 192 unique environments with these varying attributes, from narrow train carriages to vast enclosed arenas and walled gardens to endless fields, the researchers said.
When in large open virtual spaces, whether indoors or outdoors, students exhibited greater nonverbal synchrony and reported increases in many positive measures such as group cohesion, pleasure, excitement, presence and fun, compared to student interaction in a constrained environment, the study found.
The study also showed that outdoor environments with elements of nature generated more positive feelings regardless of the apparent size of the virtual space. “Where you are in the metaverse can have a major impact on your experience and a group’s shared experience,” Han said. “Large, open, scenic spaces that people can move around in really helped with group behavior.”
The results therefore suggest that people can take advantage of the available grandeur of virtual reality by opting for large outdoor environments instead of recreating cramped meeting rooms or amphitheaters.
“At the very heart of collaboration, people are assisting and responding to each other in productive ways,” Bailenson said in a statement. “And our data shows that all of these great downstream things happen when you make your virtual rooms huge compared to a traditional office space.”
Sense of self in VR
In the other experiment, the students interacted with each other virtually either as self-avatars, which resembled the students’ actual physical world appearances, or as generic avatars which all looked and dressed like each other. in the same way. The researchers observed the students’ VR behaviors, and the students reported their feelings on measures such as group cohesion, presence, enjoyment, and realism.
The study found that when represented by avatars that looked like them, students displayed more non-verbal synchronicity, meaning they gestured and stood the same in relation to each other. Consistent with these observations, students reported feeling more “in tune” with themselves and each other when coming together as self-avatars, the researchers said.
When depicted as generic avatars and therefore “not themselves” virtually, students reported the experience to be entertaining and liberating. “People liked being in generic avatars stripped of all identity,” Han said. “On the other hand, when represented by self-avatars, students reported feeling more active and engaged.”
Real impacts, virtual locations and avatars
A key takeaway from these results is that for more productive and collaborative interactions – such as for business purposes or in the workplace – self-avatars are the preferred option. “When you get serious in the metaverse, you want to be like yourself,” said Bailenson, founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) and also a co-author of the study.
Importantly, both experiments found that the reported benefits of interacting virtually with certain avatars and in certain environments increased over time. Bailenson said these results suggest the effects are long-lasting and not just isolated, positive VR experiences.
The study also demonstrates the potential of virtual reality as an innovative and insightful way to conduct psychological studies, given its limitless digital possibilities and low costs compared to alternatives in the physical world.
“In the history of the social sciences, there are very few studies of the psychological effect of huge indoor spaces, for the obvious reason that it is, for example, very expensive to rent Madison Square Garden to hold a meeting of four people,” Bailenson said. “But in virtual reality, the cost disappears, and one of the most compelling findings from our study is that huge indoor spaces have much of the same redeeming psychological value as being outdoors.”
In an email to GamesBeat, Bailenson said the team set out to determine how people’s behaviors and attitudes change over time, how people’s behaviors and attitudes change when they embody and are surrounded by different avatars, and how people’s behaviors and attitudes change when they interact. in different environmental contexts.
“In my mind, as someone who has studied virtual reality for two decades, there had been quite a bit of work on avatars in the past, but until this study there was almost no work. on time or place,” Bailenson said. “In terms of time, it’s extremely expensive to put hundreds of people in groups through a headset and see their verbal, nonverbal, and performance data change over time, but because it was within the scope of a class, and because we were able to buy a headset for each student, we were able to see this evolution in real time.
He added: “In terms of location, we had coders building 24 new worlds every week specifically to look at the size of the XZ plane and were able to quantitatively answer the question ‘How important is having a large panoramic space? One of the coolest things about the study is looking at huge interior spaces, which isn’t something you can do in the real world, but turns out to have a very similar to being outside in virtual reality.
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