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­sing Virtual Reality to Overcome Fear, Reduce Prejudice

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Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab director Jeremy Bailenson directs a student through a virtual reality exercise.

Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab is exploring the use of virtual reality to help people overcome phobias, confront prejudices, and tolerate pain.

Credit: Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab

Overcoming phobias, confronting prejudices, tolerating pain, and encouraging healthier living are some of the benefits of virtual reality (VR) technology being explored at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

Experiments involve subjects contained in a 20-foot by 20-foot space equipped with speakers and a vibrating floor, while high-tech cameras track light-emitting diode sensors worn on the participant's body. Oculus Rift VR headgear completes the illusion with an overlay of images projected in the subject's field of vision.

"We study the transfer effect; how does an intense virtual reality experience change the way you think of yourself and others?" says lab director Jeremy Bailenson.

One demonstration has participants interact with an earthquake simulation, while another involves looking at an avatar of yourself that can change skin color, gender, and age, and that encounters prejudice from other avatars to help cultivate empathy.

Bailenson thinks the lab will be able to run more extensive experiments once tech companies start installing VR hardware in the home. "VR is very good for rare moments and impossible moments," he says. "What happens in a world where anything--the most intense thing that anyone has ever done physically--can happen to everyone at the push of a button?"

From USA Today
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