For better or worse, virtual reality seems to be the next big panacea. Medical researchers are testing virtual reality as a treatment for pain or anxiety and even as a means of treating or curing paralysis. Couple those advances with the fact that tech startups have begun testing new physical interfaces that allow users to “feel” virtual objects, and you’ve got one weird virtual future developing. Now, a team of researchers from Stanford and several other universities are testing a new application of virtual reality that they believe could once and for all end humankind’s rampant apathy towards destroying the living world around us.
According to Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, these new virtual environments are designed to allow users to become one with various living things in the natural world, such as a cow destined for slaughter or a coral reef undergoing the deadly process of bleaching. Sounds fun, right? Sign me up!
According to the researchers’ recent publication in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, these novel virtual experiences can lead users to feel more immediately and viscerally connected with the natural world:
Embodying sensory-rich experiences of animals in IVEs led to greater feeling of embodiment, perception of being present in the virtual world, and interconnection between the self and nature compared to video. Heightened interconnection with nature elicited greater perceptions of imminence of the environmental risk and involvement with nature, which persisted for 1 week.
Grace Ahn, professor of advertising at the University of Georgia and co-author of this research, told The Guardian that one of the biggest obstacles public policy makers have to overcome when persuading the public to actually give a crap about that annoying environment thing is the fact that changes to the environment happen over such long periods of time:
One of the biggest problems with environmental issues is that there’s a huge temporal gap, so it seems like whatever you do in the present doesn’t really connect to the environmental problems in the future.
Well, I bet those neat dying cow games will get right on changing hearts and minds. Meanwhile, pass the burgers, please.