Experiencing a Virtual World

During a recent visit to Stanford University, psychologist Jeremy Bailenson (pictured) invited our small group of conferees to his Virtual Human Interaction Lab, where he explained his studies and invited us each to experience a virtual world, complete with surround sound and vibrating floor.

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His expressed aim is to “give you an experience that changes how you think about yourself,” and then to assess the aftereffects. In our group, brain scientist Antonio Damasio found his left and right legs and arms switched, as he popped virtual balloons.  Anthropologist Mel Konner found his identity shifted into a mirrored person.  I found myself in a beautiful forest, cutting down trees, and then underwater in a beautiful lagoon, with fish flying by.

Bailenson reports that men who become female avatars later are more nurturing.  Heroes who gain the ability to fly around a city (navigating by arm movements, as below) later become more helpful.  Those who age in front of their eyes become more future oriented.

In such ways, Bailenson explores “how virtual reality can change the way people think about education, environmental behavior, empathy, and health.”