John F. Kennedy University Top Minds: Professor John Banks

The Psychology of Virtual Reality 2.0

Professor John Banks in the College of Business and Professional Studies, Innovation and Creative Technology at JFKU. In this video Professor John discusses how virtual reality plays a key role in the art of technology.

To my mind, virtual reality is like the promised jetpack. It’s a thing that for many years, we’ve been promised was going to happen. It took a long time to get there but we’re actually finally there with virtual reality now. We’re at the beginning of it. The thing that’s fascinating about it as an educator, is that it really sits at the crossroads of ardent technology. To my mind, where that comes about is that technologically, we needed to get to a certain point where virtual reality would even work. We’ve tried it multiple times in the past and essentially ended up with a lot of people getting sick.
There is reasons for that, and the reasons for that are somewhat well known about how we process information, but that’s relatively in depth and in another conversation but it’s one that we have in our innovation program where we talk about the neuroscience and psychology of how we process information. Really there were a number of advancements that come out of mobile phone technology and feature film, those are really the two places where images used to be very low resolution, they weren’t drawn quickly enough and we were very bad at understanding how to move things in a virtual space, like in a computer graphic world.
Those are problems that we solved over the last few years. Once those were solved, suddenly virtual reality became something that we could do and we could manufacture. It’s much more complicated than that but that’s really the gist of it. Along with that, there were a number of advancements or clarity in psychology and neuroscience about how we understand the world, and that’s gone into the software, in the creation of the worlds in virtual reality to understand … A great example is when you’re riding in your car on the freeway for half an hour and you get off the freeway and you stop at a stop light, if you look out the window your body feels like it’s still moving, that’s a condition that we have.
That’s a problem in virtual reality that you have to solve in how you work with the software and the world that you’re in. All this has led to us being able to create systems that function and work. One of the interesting things about that is as virtual reality has emerged, outside of entertainment, everybody keeps talking about this concept of empathy. The reason for that is empathy is seeing the world through the eyes of someone else. That’s actually what virtual reality is; you’re replacing reality with a different version of reality that’s manufactured. If you’re doing that, you can see through somebody else’s eyes.
Writers love to write articles and it’s really great to have a theme to do that. One of the themes that has really emerged strongly is this idea that we could look at the world through the eyes of a refugee. We could look at the eyes of somebody who’s incarcerated or somebody who’s slowly going blind, things that are very far from what would be our normal experience. To me, it’s fascinating because a)there really isn’t a precise definition of empathy, so first of all, we don’t exactly know what we’re talking about and people have very different reactions to being in virtual reality. It is this experience where you are seeing through somebody else’s eyes but you’re still yourself.
An area of exploration has to be how are we going to maintain ourselves? How are we going to take the vision of another as we get more and more deeply into these worlds? If we spend 20 hours a week in virtual reality, are we going to end up being more adaptable to the way that people can understand others? Are we just going to really say, “I’m done with that character, I need a new one.”? It’s an unanswered question and it really may be some people go one way, some people go another. If I’m thinking about if our capacity for empathy will grow through technological experience, I think it will, I’m an optimist but I also …
Data has shown about peoples fears that they are reduced when they have firsthand knowledge. In my mind, that’s why maybe cities are a little more accepting than outside of the city because you’re forced to be together, you have knowledge of others. If we are living in a world where we can take on the experience of others more readily, then I believe that that will lead to greater empathy and more acceptance of others because we get what they are, we get what they’re experiencing. I think that can only be a good thing.

John F. Kennedy University’s Top Minds Video Series

The Top Minds series features video interviews of JFK University professors who are preeminent thinkers in cutting-edge fields. From virtual reality to gender identity, housing policy to somatic psychology, these interviews feature experts speaking candidly about the work they’re best known for and make knowledge accessible and available to the public. Each installment is geared toward offering unique insight into some of the most important questions facing human society today.