Virtual reality research

within the School of Psychology

Foundations of search and navigation 

Lead by Dr Alastair D. Smith and Rory Baxter

Our research group is interested in the processes that allow us to learn, represent, and act upon the spatial world around us. Immersive VR technology provides an unparalleled opportunity to perform controlled laboratory studies of naturalistic large-scale human exploratory behaviour, and our wireless facilities enable the creation of experimental spaces for participants to freely interact with. Our current focus is on using VR to perform multi-trial empirical examinations of search and navigation, in both typical and atypical participants. We are currently examining place learning behaviour, using a paradigm that allows us to dissociate egocentric and allocentric contributions to basic navigation. This not only facilitates translational research of processes that are known to rely upon self-movement information in the agent, but it also provides a method for understanding differences in basic navigational abilities associated with ageing, neurological impairment (e.g. hydrocephalus, dementia), atypical development (e.g. autism, Williams syndrome), and different psychological states (e.g. anxiety). To examine more integrative behaviours, we have created more complex environments to study how participants use spatial cues to search for targets distributed across three-dimensional planes, and to explore the underpinnings of route learning and wayfinding within real-world scenes. Across all of these navigational contexts, we are also assessing whether spatial abilities can be improved by neuromodulation techniques (tDCS and tACS) and by cognitive intervention. Our work is funded by the ESRC, the EPSRC, and DSTL.  

<p>Virtual reality research<br></p>
<p>Virtual reality research<br></p>
<p>Virtual reality research 1<br></p>

Connecting people with the ocean 

Lead by Sohvi Nuojua, Professor Sabine Pahl, and Professor Richard Thompson

We have used the Virtual Reality technology at the School of Psychology in an attempt to bring people closer to nature. With the use of VR we have been able to expose our study participants to awe-inspiring difficult-to-reach environments. In our first study, half of our participants viewed an immersive underwater scene of a coral reef (theBlu on Steam). This VR simulation enables our participants to explore and interact with a coral reef teeming with marine wildlife. Our findings showed that a brief 4-minute exposure to this virtual environment was successful in inducing stronger feelings of connection with the ocean, when compared to our control condition. Our control group participants navigated through central New York in a virtual simulation (Google Earth VR with Streetview on Steam). We are examining whether this ‘ocean connectedness’ manipulation can bring people closer to their sustainable motivations in regard to single-use packaging and its relevance to sustainability (e.g. recyclability and type of material of the packaging). We are also extending this work to include multiple comparison conditions, including virtual tours around built structures other than cities, as well as an alternative tasks that do not use VR technologies.

<p>Virtual reality research 1<br></p>
<p>Virtual reality research 1<br></p>

Using augmented reality to deliver an imagery-based intervention for behaviour change 

Led by Kathryn Brindle and Professor Jon May

Technology is fast paced and ever changing, inviting new exciting possibilities for psychological interventions that help to change people’s undesired behaviours. Technology such as virtual reality has given us the ability to transport people other worlds. Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, does the opposite, allowing us to bring digital creations into our own world. One behaviour change intervention that is suited to technology-based delivery is functional imagery training (FIT). FIT uses guided imagery to help people think through and plan their goals. This imagery is used as a tool to help people stay motivated as they work towards each step of changing their behaviour. My PhD project is focusing on creating a version of FIT that is delivered using AR, with a pre-recorded video of a digital counsellor that can appear in a person’s own environment. The digital counsellor will teach people how to utilise imagery to help them to change their behaviour in a comfortable setting, which is also similar to a face-to-face intervention. Each person will get the exact same intervention, allowing for the ability to compare different imagery instructions to see which ones are more effective at changing people’s behaviour. My project has two main aims: first, to test this technological method for the delivery of a pre-recorded behaviour change intervention to find out whether it can effectively help change behaviour; second, to use this delivery method to test different imagery instructions, to test theoretical claims about the role of imagery in behaviour change.