Virtual reality and children
Virtual Reality (VR) technology is reaching higher maturity in the last few years. The virtual world that one may experience using technological solutions like HTC Vive or Oculus Rift is very suggestive as it intensely affects the senses of sight, hearing and - to a limited extent - touch. The illusory world generated by modern VR devices is very convincing at the current level of technology development. It can be expected that soon, along with other technological innovations, VR equipment will become more convenient, easier to use and cheaper. It is very likely that in the near future the technology will be widely disseminated and will be used by people of all ages - including children.
That is why we conducted a research project assessing the first reactions of children using VR. In the first part of the study, children were acquainted with VR devices and presented with several sample applications with different level of interactivity. Children quickly became familiar with the new technology. After less than a minute, they looked around freely, moved and grabbed objects in the virtual world. The reactions of children were very positive, even enthusiastic. They liked the virtual world, and staying in it did not cause them negative psychophysical reactions (like dizziness, nausea, problems with orientation).
Children opinions and reactions gathered during the interviews indicate that children highly appreciated the attractiveness of the virtual world. Virtual experiences during the experiment were often assessed at a similar or higher level than real-world experiences. When asked what reality they would prefer to do their favourite activities, children often answered that in both realities it is just as good, and often in VR it is even better. Another important finding of the study is that for children the possibility of interaction - grasping objects, opening doors, throwing, etc. is a crucial element of virtual reality experience. Children were actively looking for elements of the virtual world that can be manipulated. The virtual world for children was more than an image displayed on the goggles and children spontaneously described the virtual reality experience as a transition into other worlds.
This quick familiarity with the new digital reality may stem from the fact that children are acquainted with the imaginary world because of their previous experience with the screens of phones, tablets, computers or TV. Such training makes the concept of 'the world of pixels' familiar to them, and VR is just another level of development of this concept.
Our findings clearly suggest that children very easily adopt VR without any prior experience with that technology. We advise continuing studies on the children behaviour in VR. Firstly, to quantitatively verify observations from this project and secondly, to better understand how common application of this technology would influence children in the near future.
Image: iStock by Getty Imagesback