Stanford University


Childhood Development and Immersion

There is little research on children and immersive virtual reality.  Our research seeks to examine how young children behaviorally and socially respond to immersive virtual reality, and the characters within it. We have conducted an extended review of the literature that currently exists in this realm and are preparing a white paper on the “state of the art” of the overlap between developmental psychology and VR.  Moreover, we have run a series of studies that will contribute to a better understanding of children’s experiences with this new technology.   

Empathy at Scale

The following project seeks to design, test, and distribute virtual reality interventions that teach empathy. Virtual reality simulations allow learners to experience the life of someone else by “walking a mile” in his or her shoes. Through the capabilities of the technology, learners can see their appearance and behaviors reflected in a virtual mirror as someone who is different, and perceptually experience a scenario from the perspective of any party in a social interaction.

Sustainable Behaviors

Extreme weather events are now dramatizing the effect humans are having on the planet. Yet we still face great challenges in staving off irrevocable climate change. It isn’t simply about convincing skeptical politicians — it’s about getting the public to visualize how their behaviors (like driving a gas-guzzling car or living in an energy inefficient home) are contributing to a problem that may only manifest itself completely in future decades. Our previous research has shown that Virtual Reality is uniquely effective at changing conservation behavior, as evidenced in studies about reducing paper use and about hot water conservation.

Immersion and Presence

As virtual reality technology moves from laboratories to living rooms, the question, “how immersive is enough” has become uniquely important. For governments and corporations who seek to build systems, it is critical to know exactly how immersive these systems need to be. Inspired by an exhaustive meta-analysis on the qualities that make up an ideal virtual experience, the Immersion at Scale project seeks to explore the degree of immersion required for an ideal virtual experience through the use of mobile virtual reality systems.

Learning in Immersive VR

A virtual classroom gives researchers the freedom to conduct experiments with complete control over the actions and appearance of virtual teachers, classmates, and surroundings. In collaboration with researchers from the Graduate School of Education, we are investigating the interactions between class subject, learning environment, and classroom makeup on participants' interest and learning in a virtual class. Through the virtual world, we are also able to precisely monitor participants’ behavior in the classroom, and look for correlations between these behaviors and learning outcomes.

Homuncular Flexibility

In this line of studies, we are examining a concept first developed by Jaron Lanier called "homuncular flexibility" – the ability to learn to control novel avatars in interactive tasks. For example, in order to reach further in virtual space, can users learn to control avatar bodies with extra limbs? This line of research looks at whether the way these avatar bodies look, and the way they are controlled, affects task success, liking and the sense of presence.