An Ethical Framework for Research and Commercial Use of Virtual Reality
What kind of warning messages should a VR headset include? Companies entering the virtual market are going to struggle with safety issues and regulations that don’t exist yet. The truth is, we’re only scratching the surface, and there is still a lot to learn, but the good news is that we can anticipate this and prevent, with good research and transparent practices.
That is what Michael Madary and Thomas Metzinger defend in the first code of ethics for research and commercial use of VR, which gives concrete recommendations to minimize potential risks.
Targeted advertising collecting biometric data and the use of Neuromarketing
VR equipment will likely get really good at collecting biometric data to enhance user experience. This includes eye movements, facial expressions, and posture. However, this data can be used to attain levels of targeted advertising. Research at our lab has found that forward-leaning postures are indicative of purchase intentions.
More obviously, using the rich virtual context will create more powerful experiences that will affect consumers in deeper ways. VR is able to generate an immersive experience of being in the virtual world and being the avatar that is within it. The tourism industry is already using this to engage immerse customers in paradise destinations. “Commercials in VR could even feature images of the target audience himself or herself using the product.” Says Madary. This can have long-lasting effects in memory via the close phenomenological experience of the avatar as the self. It’s all in your head!
Subjects that were given superman’s superpowers in VR showed more altruistic behavior afterwards
The lasting effects of an illusion of embodiment
VR technology targets the mechanisms by which human beings identify with themselves. A number of studies have already pointed that what the virtual avatar does can be perceived as one’s own actions. Featuring an avatar in the edge of a deep pit, a skyscraper or a cliff immediately increases signs of stress in the subject, making her feel that she can fall. This that has been named the Virtual Pit by Meehan and colleagues (2002).
These effects last beyond the experience and impact the person’s real-world interactions. If aggressive video games make children more aggressive (albeit that there is no scientific evidence for this), it is easy to imagine a similar outcome in VR. Furthermore, its immersive nature opens opportunities for mental and behavioral manipulations that may include commercial, religious, political interests.
But this type of behavioral plasticity can also be used in beneficial ways. Rosenberg et al. (2013) found that subjects that were given superman’s superpowers in VR showed more altruistic behavior afterward. In the same year, Peck et al. found that subjects who were embodied in a dark-skinned avatar showed a decrease in implicit racial bias, at least temporarily.
VR can reduce prejudices in the social context and facilitate social interactions. In the avatar world there are no races, genres or religion, the identities are infinite. Altruist behaviors can be induced, and great applications will likely expand across many sectors. But one must keep in mind the potential risks such as stress induced by a harmful virtual experience the behavioral changes that go beyond virtuality to affect reality.
In Neurons Inc we’ve been testing several applications of VR, AR and MR since 2013 and we own the largest database of neural data for testing these technologies. Our research focuses on social interaction, consumer adoption and market application of virtual technologies. Drop me an e-mail for more info at [email protected]