Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that has been growing by leaps and bounds, being increasingly adopted by large companies and potentially transforming the way we relate to the virtual world, going far beyond fun games like Pokémon GO and the like. And as companies rush to launch augmented reality products and make technology “catch,” Stanford researchers have been studying how this technology has the potential to affect people’s behavior.
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According to the study, the team found that even without using an AR device, people end up keeping habits from that moment without realizing it. For example, people studied by the team unintentionally showed that they avoided sitting in a real-world chair that was just used by someone else in the virtual world, and participants seemed to be influenced by the presence of the virtual person in a similar way to what they would be if a real person were by his side.
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“We’ve found that using augmented reality can change where you walk, how you look, how well you do on assignments, and how you socially connect with other people in the room,” explained Jeremy Bailenson, a Stanford communications professor and author study. The researcher previously did a similar research with virtual reality (VR) – but while the VR attempts to simulate a real environment, taking the user out of its physical configuration, AR places layers of digital information on the physical environment, and so the potential of affecting people’s behavior in a more intense way than VR.
Bailenson further understands that “augmented reality could help contain the climate change crisis by enabling realistic virtual meetings, which would avoid the need to move to face-to-face meetings,” and his research “may help draw attention to the possible consequences the use of AR on a large scale so that technology can be designed to avoid problems.”
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For the study, the team had 218 participants in three different lines of research. The first two required each participant to interact with a virtual avatar sitting in a real chair in front of them, while the other tested whether participants would follow accepted social cues when interacting with the avatar in question.
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As a result, the researchers found that all participants preferred to sit in the chair next to where the virtual avatar was sitting, even though there was no flesh and blood person there. And even after they disconnected from the AR platform, 72% of them still chose to sit on a chair that was not used by the avatar.
For Bailenson, “the fact that none of the guys took the seat where the avatar was a surprise, and these results highlight how augmented reality content integrates into your physical space, affecting how you interact with it.”
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