By Akshaiyaa V S
A study on rats in 2014 at the University of California found that the neurons associated with spatial reasoning acted completely different in a virtual environment when compared to a real one. More than half of the neurons supposedly “shut down” in virtual environments. While this is only in the case of rats, we do not yet know the impact virtual reality (VR) can have on humans due to insufficient data.
Virtual reality headsets require the mobile to be literally pressed to the users face with sensors powerful enough to convince your brain to believe whatever you see to be real. This very fact makes it clear that this is an unnatural phenomenon and we should not be exposed to, on a regular basis.
Loss of spatial awareness and disorientation
From inside the headset, it becomes a challenge to identify things in the real environment after spending merely 30 minutes in virtual reality. Additionally, disorientation is a common problem amongst VR users, especially those prone to motion sickness or for users who have been using VR without any break for an extended period of time. Users with weak eye movement are more likely to experience adverse effects. Responding to any uneasiness or dizziness immediately when using the VR helps prevent serious health issues. Those prone to seizures are advised to stay away from VR headsets as they are found to invoke them.
Effects on brain development
The study in California has also found that VR headsets cause maximum damage to the developing brains of children. Since children are not as reflexive as adults, they might not properly communicate eye strain, if any, while using the headset.
Regardless of the claims by VR producing companies about not causing any harm while VR usage, it’s unnatural to have visual resources pressed against our body peripheral. Also, most of the VR headsets come with age restrictions, which the companies offer little explanation for, raising further concern.
VR and vision
The VR headsets achieve illusion by presenting an image for each eye on a flat screen, which results in the eye converging on an image in the virtual distance, causing what is called the vergence-accommodation conflict. In the real world, all of the senses work in sync to observe the world. In the case of a virtual environment, though, the eyes and ears take in observations from the virtual world and thus do not agree with the other senses. In addition, there are speculations regarding the acceleration of the global epidemic – myopia on using VR headsets.
Jack McNee, a gamer, holds the world record for playing a game in the VR headset continuously for 36 hours. At the end of it, he claims that he did not experience any of the side effects like nausea or eyesores but says that he couldn’t feel anything below his neck, which could perhaps be more alarming.
However, as a silver lining, it was recently found out that usage of VR headsets as instructed by optometrists can, in fact, lead to vision improvement and enhance hand-eye coordination and depth perception.
VR headsets expose users to harmful electromagnetic radiation since they are often connected to smartphones or computers using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. With the radiations from smartphones already affecting human reproductive systems and causing mood swings, attaching it with VR which is at a much closer distance to the human body would pose long term health risks.
Lack of research
“For ethical reasons, it’s impossible to use children as subjects,” says Michael Madary, a research assistant in an interview with Live Science. It would be unethical to affect children’s psychological development just to test the after effects of a VR headset, in addition to putting them through the possibly traumatic experience. If a VR is designed so as to manipulate its young users for either political or religious reasons, it would become a threat to their psychology when they become adults.
Furthermore, traumatic content when seen in the cinema is more likely to have a bigger impact when viewed in VR. Parents need to be careful about the content that they allow their children to view in the VR. Taking breaks in between and not indulging in it for too long – in short, considering the VR as a sport would be the right way to use it.
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