Investigating the Efficacy of Virtual Experiences on Stress Reduction; Investigating the Future Negative Consequences of Virtual Reality

Dodge, Max, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Barnes, Laura, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia

The technical project is an investigation into the ability of virtual reality to mimic the soothing effects of natural environments in the context of Attention Restoration Theory (ART). ART posits that certain types of stimuli found in natural environments such as forests or pastures can have therapeutic effects such as a reduction of stress levels and the replenishment of working memory. The purpose of this study is to determine if simulating natural environments in virtual reality can achieve any of these effects. Participants of the study perform a demanding cognitive task designed to act as a stressor and then will either view images of green, natural environments in VR or on a conventional two-dimensional monitor. The participants rate their mood before and after both the stressor and the exposure to the images. Using the survey data and biometric data such as heart rate variability and galvanic skin response, the study can then determine the degree of approximation of a natural environment in a virtual one.
The therapeutic and artistic goals of virtual reality are laudable and exciting; however, potential abuse of this new technology has received very little attention from academic literature. VR should be viewed through the lens of pathological technology usage and comparisons must be made with current technological abuse such as video game addiction. This paper aims to answer how current technological abuse can reveal potential negative impact of widespread VR adoption. Technological determinism is used to examine how VR and society will exert influence on each other and how that relationship may change over time. This framework provides a guideline for how society can maneuver VR in its formative years so that negative outcomes can be minimized. Academic research about the nature of video game addiction (a useful proxy for VR) and comparisons between VR usage and traditional media consumption will serve to build a picture of how like or unlike current technology VR is and how it could be misused. It is to be expected that VR will elicit more intense emotional reactions than traditional forms of technology use and, therefore, has a greater addictive potential. This research is important to engineering as it seeks to understand the impact of a product in the nascent stages of its development and aims to assist engineers in the ethical deployment of new technology.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
virtual reality, stress, addiction

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering
Technical Advisor: Laura Barnes
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members:Bailey Biber, Melanie Gonzalez, Raymond Huang, Liv Johnson, Zach Martin, Vy Lan Tran, Sophia Xiao

Issued Date: