A VR discovery could upend how developers create virtual worlds

A revolutionary study unveils an intriguing contrast between virtual and physical realities.
Kavita Verma
Woman with VR glasses
Woman with VR glasses

Thinkhubstudio / iStock  

In our ever-evolving virtual world, understanding the nuances between virtual reality (VR) and physical reality is essential to ensuring that users of these platforms have a positive experience.

A revolutionary study unveils an intriguing contrast between virtual and physical realities – one being the manner in which size cues are perceived. The results may signal a new direction for VR applications!

Expectations influence our virtual reality

Western Neuroscientists have uncovered a remarkable phenomenon – reality found in virtual realms is more closely linked to our expectations rather than real visual information. 

The research is part of a special edition based on a workshop on 'New Approaches to 3D Vision' by the Royal Society, which included debates regarding virtual reality's promises and limitations. 

This study points toward the challenges of online shopping. Online shoppers may often be disappointed when their purchases are not what they expected, such as finding that an attractive sweater bought over the internet was made for dolls and not adults!

Shopping online can be tricky – compared with store-based experiences, customers are much less able to gauge item sizes accurately – mainly because they lack physical cues that inform visual understanding. With few other reference points available while browsing through a catalog of products virtually, shoppers rely on past experience and assume bulky sweaters fit similarly to those worn by people rather than dolls!

Does virtual reality perceive size as accurately as in the real world?

The burgeoning world of virtual reality has presented the possibility for exciting applications such as online shopping. Still, researchers wanted to investigate whether size perception in VR would be comparable or inferior to that experienced when physically viewing an object. 

A research team in Immersive Neuroscience, Jody Culham, led by Canada Research Chair, conducted an experiment. In the experiment, the study participants were presented in virtual reality with familiar objects, such as dice and sports balls. Then, they were asked to estimate the size of those objects. 

To understand the size perception better, VR was utilized to exhibit dice and Rubik's cubes at their normal sizes or reversed sizes at different distances while maintaining a fixed visual angle. Even when presented with visual information suggesting an object is a certain size or distance, individuals in virtual reality are more likely to rely on their prior knowledge of the item's true size than they would if viewing it in person. The results showed that binocular cues were not as influential for participants immersed in this simulated environment!

Despite the potential of virtual reality in both research and real-life applications, its accuracy as an indicator of how we perceive our physical world must be treated with caution. 

Professor Culham's study suggests that our previous experiences play a major role when it comes to understanding size within VR environments – meaning visual cues are not always reliable substitutes for those found in person. Though exciting advancements have been made, there is still much left to uncover about navigating virtual worlds.

Study's promising implications 

Even though the experiment indicates that VR is not as reliable as we might think, it has some promising implications too. 

Anna Rzepka, a co-first author of the study, demonstrated how familiar objects could provide useful size cues for image-guided surgery. 

Anna suggests that by incorporating these known elements into virtual reality scenes, we may improve outcomes when it comes to tasks like removing tumors, as they serve as aids in accurately perceiving its size and location.

The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B published these findings as a part of the workshop 'New Approaches to 3D Vision'.

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