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Technology that could virtually transform our lives

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

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COVID-19 has propelled video communication into the forefront of our daily lives. Now ECU researchers are exploring how real-time virtual reality (VR) chat could transform interview-based communication in a post-COVID world.

Edith Cowan University (ECU) psychology researcher Dr Shane Rogers is investigating the use of high-fidelity virtual puppet avatars for interviewing human subjects.

The research has the potential to be applied in counselling, recruitment, criminal investigations and even dating.

VR-based social interaction has not been researched previously and takes advantage of recent developments in motion capture technology and virtual production software.

“Early findings indicate that VR chat has huge potential. Around 20 per cent of participants said that they enjoyed our form of VR chat even more than face-to-face interaction,” Dr Rogers said.

How it works

Motion capture technology is used to map a person’s body and face onto a virtual character that is then broadcast in real time.

“The research aims to examine feelings of presence, comfort, awkwardness, and the extent of self-disclosure with high-fidelity virtual puppet chat compared with face-to-face chat,” Dr Rogers said.

VR communication in a therapy context

Dr Rogers said an interesting early finding was that many participants preferred VR chat over face-to-face when they were disclosing negative personal information.

“This opens up obvious avenues for this technology to be used for counselling purposes.

“For people who might feel uncomfortable about speaking face-to-face with a counsellor or therapist, the extra anonymity could be especially appealing.

“At the same time, this kind of communication can provide a greater sense of physical closeness than standard text chat or video chat.

“So it can provide the best of both worlds for therapeutic use through a heightened sense of anonymity, while retaining an element of closeness via the feeling of physical presence in the virtual world,” Dr Rogers said.

Findings from this current research project are expected to be published later this year. This study follows Dr Rogers previous research, which used eye tracking technology to investigate the importance of eye contact.

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