VR Avatars And Behavorial Changes

I just watched this lecture by Jeremy Bailenson about his research on avatars and how they affect the behavior of the real person they represent. He shows how a partial morph of a person’s appearance with a political candidate such as George Bush or John Kerry will change how people vote. The point of it all is to show that we trust people who look like us. He points to many more studies with similar results.

He then shows different ways that our behavior in the real world can change based on changes in the virtual world such as a study he did where when a person moved in VR, their avatar became skinnier. When they did not move in the VR world, their avatar got fatter. This simple change in a short VR simulation then resulted in more people exercising longer within 24 hours of the experience.

This has many shocking implications for ways in which we can be manipulated in VR experiences. It also shows how we can be manipulated in general in the real world.

It’s crazy how things like this happen, but just this morning I received an email about a Virtual And Augmented Reality and Behavioral Change Conference at Stanford. I deleted the email and just went back and found it (linked above). I remember my thoughts when I deleted it were that I could see how VR role playing might help some people how to learn social skills, but that was about as far as this would go. Apparently, I was very wrong.

After watching Jeremy Bailenson’s lecture I firmly believe that some great things can be done for all kinds of mental health issues using VR and AR.

The possibilities now seem endless. Everyone can imagine the government or corporations manipulating us, and that’s sure to happen. But what about the opposite. What if I could go into a VR world and my self-confidence could increase from the experience? What if a person afraid of heights, or any phobia, could be overcome through a VR experience?

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