Researchers use VR to explore behavioural and psychophysiological responses to a potential threat.
Virtual reality (VR) has emerged as an immersive technology and evolved beyond gaming. Today, it is being used for various different purposes, ranging from entertainment to virtual training and industrial maintenance. VR is also used for psychology research to examine areas like social anxiety, moral decision-making and emotional responses, among others. In a recent research, researchers used virtual reality to explore how people respond emotionally to a potential threat. From their earlier work, they knew that being high up in VR stimulates strong feelings of fear and anxiety.
Hence, researchers this time asked participants to walk across a grid of ice blocks suspended 200 metres above a snowy alpine valley. They found that participants’ behaviour became more cautious and considered, as researchers increased the precariousness of the ice block path. Researchers also found people’s behaviour in VR that can provide clear evidence of their personality. In this way, they were able to identify participants with a certain personality trait based on the way they behaved in the VR scenario.
According to Stephen Fairclough, Professor of Psychophysiology in the School of Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University and one of among the researchers, while this may be an interesting finding, it obviously raises concerns in terms of people’s data. He notes that technology companies could profile people’s personalities via their VR interactions and then use this information to target advertising, for example. This clearly raises concerns about how data collected through VR platforms can be used.
As part of the study, Stephen and others used head-mounted VR displays and handheld controllers, along with sensors attached to people’s feet. These sensors allowed participants to test out a block before stepping onto it with both feet. As they made their way across the ice, some blocks would crack and change colour once they stepped onto them. The number of crack blocks increased as the experiment progressed. After that, researchers also included a few fall blocks that were identical to crack blocks until activated with both feet. And when participants shattered, they experienced a short but uncomfortable virtual fall.
By doing this, researchers found that as they increased the number of crack and fall blocks, participants’ behaviour became more cautious and considered. And a lot more testing they found with one foot to identify and avoid the cracks, and more time spent considering the next move. However, researchers knew that this tendency towards risk-averse behaviour was more obvious for participants with a higher level of a personality trait called neuroticism. According to them, people with high neuroticism are more sensitive to negative stimuli and potential threats.
Comprehensively, the study demonstrates how VR users could have their personality profiled in a virtual world. Stephen noted that this approach, where private traits are predicted based on implicit monitoring of digital behaviour, was showed with a dataset derived from Facebook likes back in 2013.