Making a difference to the environment using virtual reality

Climate change is a issue that has been around for a while now but it has only slowly began to creep in to mainstream consciousness. It is still needed to create more awareness and action to make effective changes. That is why I think getting people to visualise how their drive to work, running tap at home, or not recycling to say the least, are contributing to a problem that will probably be irreversible in a few decades.

I think the issue behind so little action taken to fight these problems is because people can’t visualise the effects they are having on the environment because its a slow process we cannot see in real time and many times it seems like a distant problem that we think won’t directly affect us personally or will only have an effect future generations. Very few people have first hand experience exploring the amazon or diving among coral and fish that will eventually disappear if we don’t make a change.

This is were virtual reality comes in; by using a simulated environment you can create an immersive experience to bring people inside an ecosystem that is degrading and show them first hand how their behaviour is having a negative impact.

 

In the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford, they have been trying to recreate these experiences using virtual reality technology. Instead of just watching a nature show the person is transported inside this natural environment allowing VR to feed computer genereted content to the sensory organs.

‘…we have shown how putting people in virtual reality can get them to save more for retirement, exercise more, show more empathy, and yes, act in a way that is more environmentally sound.’

The Virtual Human Interaction Lab have done studies to show the effects that virtual reality has on people. One of their studies where they had the subjects cut down a virtual tree caused the participants to use 20 percent less paper in the real world on that day compared to those who had only read about it. After surveying the subjects a week later their attitudes towards the environment remained.

Another experiment had the subjects forced to eat virtual coal to demonstrate how much energy was being consumed to heat their water in a virtual shower. Placing water sensors in real sinks after the study the subjects that had the VR experience used less hot water than the subjects that only had written indications of their their energy consumption.

‘Across these simulations, we’ve demonstrated that either reading about a problem or watching a movie affects peoples’ behavior less than having a person actually experience it virtually. More articles about climate change or documentary films – while educational – are unlikely to generate meaningful behavior change on a wide scale.’

These studies are clearly indicative that having people use virtual reality to experience such things has more of an effect than other mediums such as documentaries or reading articles about climate change. Allowing people to directly experience something and be able to see it in a different light.

Reference:

Jeremy Bailenson. (2014). Virtual reality could make real difference in environment. Available: http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Virtual-reality-could-make-real-difference-in-5691610.php. Last accessed 14th Jan 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

OPINION

Virtual reality could make real difference in environment

Updated 7:51 pm, Friday, August 15, 2014

Extreme weather events are dramatizing the effect we are having on the planet. Yet one of the greatest challenges to staving off irrevocable climate change isn’t simply getting buy-in from skeptical politicians – it’s getting people to visualize how driving a gas-guzzling car or living in an energy inefficient home is contributing to a problem that may only manifest itself completely in future decades.

It gets even harder when you try to show how your personal carbon footprint contributes to ocean acidification – the process by which the ocean becomes more acidic as it sucks up the carbon dioxide we spew into the atmosphere from our tailpipes and smokestacks. Very few people have firsthand experience diving among the coral and the fish that will eventually disappear if our behavior doesn’t change. And even those who do can’t see the degradation in real time. The general public is wildly uninformed on this issue. Most have either never heard of ocean acidification or wrongfully assume it is another term for acid rain.

But there’s a potential solution for all of this: Use virtual reality, or simulated immersive experiences, to bring people inside of a degraded ocean ecosystem, and show how their behavior is contributing to the problem.

Virtual reality looks, sounds and feels real, but is simulated by technology that feeds computer-generated content to the sensory organs. Instead of watching a nature show, a person is mentally transported inside the natural environment.

In the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford, we have shown how putting people in virtual reality can get them to save more for retirement, exercise more, show more empathy, and yes, act in a way that is more environmentally sound.

In one study, subjects wore the virtual reality helmet – a head-mounted display that transports them into a virtual world – and cut down a virtual tree. The experience caused them to use 20 percent less paper in the real world on the day of the study, compared to those who only read about cutting down a tree. Moreover, when we surveyed subjects from the virtual reality group a week later their change in attitudes about the environment remained.

In another experiment, subjects took a virtual shower and were forced to virtually eat coal to demonstrate how much energy would be consumed to heat the water. We placed water sensors in real sinks; after the study, subjects who ate the coal used less hot water than those who were given written indications of how much coal they were consuming during their shower.

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