Virtual reality (VR), a three-dimensional computer-generated environment allows interaction and exploration by individuals, is pervasive across a spectrum of very broad industries, businesses and government sectors. It is so pervasive and ingrained in our lives that many of us take it for granted. For example, the military uses VR for training, simulations and injury/risk scenario purposes. Auto manufacturers use it to design vehicle prototypes. Higher education institutions use it for teacher training and student learning. In sports, it is used to train athletes, design equipment and clothing; and it can even enhance the customer experience by allowing visitors to relive games – engaging their senses as well as imaginations.
In the world of medicine, doctors can practice surgical techniques without patients being present; while actual patients suffering with PTSD or other conditions can be treated through gentle simulations.
Multisensory experiences are the hallmark of these stunning technologies. Yet, the future is poised to be even more dazzling as VR transitions from our computers to our smartphones and/or other wearables. Will escaping to virtual environments on a regular basis improve or degrade quality of life? A recent Atlantic.com article on the perils of VR, estimated one-half to one million Japanese (“hikikomori”) refuse to leave their homes, choosing to live their lives online instead. How can psychologists safeguard individuals and their well-being when alienation and isolation are often the by-products of excessive VR escapism? What role can psychologists play in molding our perceptions of these virtual environments? How can we encourage individuals to use their imaginations for the benefit of society instead of themselves? And, what happens if we don’t succeed? Join us as we attempt to answer these questions and more.
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