Research Shows Patients May Prefer Communicating With an Avatar in Therapeutic Setting

This new study suggests that using motion capture to enhance VR could catapult it into our everyday lives.

New research has shown that approximately 30% of people prefer to talk about negative experiences with a virtual reality (VR) avatar compared to a person, according to research conducted by The Edith Cowan University.

The investigators compared social interactions where people engaged in VR conversation versus face-to-face by using full face and body motion capture technology to create a ‘realistic motion avatar’ that closely imitated their human counterpart. These conversations were then analyzed based on how people interacted with the avatars compared to their human counterparts.

According to researcher Shane Rogers, MD, participants rated their experience on factors such as enjoyment, perceived understanding, comfort, awkwardness, and extent that they felt they disclosed information about themselves.

“Overall people rated VR social interaction as similar to face-to-face interaction, with the exception of closeness, where people tended to feel a little closer with each other when face-to-face,” Rogers said in the press release.

Rogers added that while VR technology has been around for some time, this new study suggests that using motion capture to enhance VR could catapult it into our everyday lives.

“This technology has the potential for broad application across a number of areas such as casual conversation, business, tourism, education and therapy,” Rogers said in the press release. “The study found that 30% of people preferred disclosing negative experiences via VR. This means that therapy might be opened to new people who don’t feel comfortable with traditional face-to-face interactions. It might also enable therapists to conduct therapy more effectively at a distance, as a person can be in the therapist room (in virtual reality) while seated in their own home.”

Further, he added that he expected VR social interaction to become more common in the next 5 years rather than a niche topic.

“More powerful computers are becoming more affordable, VR headsets and peripherals are continuing to develop, and more user-friendly VR interaction software platforms are becoming available and being updated,” Rogers said in the press release.

The research team hopes to further investigate how aspects of the generation of the avatar, such as the fidelity of motion and graphics, impact user experience and the potential of using VR in therapeutic settings.

REFERENCE

Virtual Reality could help make therapy easier. Edith Cowan University. January 5, 2022. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.ecu.edu.au/newsroom/articles/research/virtual-reality-could-help-make-therapy-easier

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