Ahn, S.J., Bailenson, J.N., & Park, D. (2014). Short- and long-term effects of embodied experiences in immersive virtual environments on environmental locus of control and behavior. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 235-245.
Immersive virtual environments successfully promote environmental behaviors. Embodying perceptually rich, interactive experiences leads to paper conservation. Individuals use 20% less paper after cutting down a virtual tree. The increase in environmental behavior lasts for up to one week afterwards. An internal environmental locus of control is the underlying mechanism. Immersive virtual environments (IVEs) allow individuals to see, hear, and feel digital stimuli as if they were in the physical world. Two studies tested the power of embodied experiences within IVEs by comparing the effects of cutting a virtual tree against reading a print description or watching a video depiction of the tree-cutting process to encourage paper conservation. Experiment 1 found that IVEs led participants to consume 20% less paper than participants who read a print description of tree cutting. Experiment 2 demonstrated that IVEs elicited greater self-reported internal environmental locus of control and self-reported environmental behaviors than print and video messages one week following the virtual experience. Moreover, internal environmental locus of control served as a mediator, driving environmental behaviors. We discuss the implications of using embodied experiences for behavior change.