Virtual Reality Can Make Your Mind Sharper, Study Finds

Not just gaming or entertainment, virtual reality (VR) can also help people recall information better as opposed to desktop computers, say researchers including one of Indian-origin.

The team from University of Maryland conducted in-depth analyses on whether people learn better through virtual, immersive environments, as opposed to more traditional platforms like a computers or tablets.

They found that people remember information better if it is presented to them in a virtual environment.

“This data is exciting in that it suggests that immersive environments could offer new pathways for improved outcomes in education and high-proficiency training,” said Amitabh Varshney, Professor of Computer Science, in a survey published in the journal Virtual Reality.

Varshney leads several major research efforts involving virtual and augmented reality (AR), including close collaboration with health care professionals interested in developing AR-based diagnostic tools for emergency medicine and VR training for surgical residents.

For the study, the team used the concept of a “memory palace,” where people recall an object or item by placing it in an imaginary physical location like a building or town.

This method has been used since classical times, taking advantage of the human brain’s ability to spatially organize thoughts and memories.

“Humans have always used visual-based methods to help them remember information, whether it’s cave drawings, clay tablets, printed text and images, or video,” said Eric Krokos, doctoral student in computer science and lead author on the paper.

“We wanted to see if virtual reality might be the next logical step in this progression,” Krokos added.

For the study, the researchers recruited 40 volunteers unfamiliar with virtual reality and split the participants into two groups – one viewed information first via a VR head-mounted display and then on a desktop and the other group did the opposite.

The results showed an 8.8 per cent improvement overall in recall accuracy using the VR headsets, a statistically significant number.

Many of the participants said the immersive “presence” while using VR allowed them to focus better.

“This leads to the possibility that an immersive virtual environment could enhance learning and recall by leveraging a person’s overall sense of body position, movement and acceleration,” said Catherine Plaisant, Senior Research Scientist in University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.