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Virtual Reality’s Impact on Behavior Change

Technology has largely driven the evolution of the communications industry and the changes are likely to be continuous and never-ending. Virtual reality (VR) is the latest development aimed at changing the way people digitally connect and consume information. Not only will VR alter how we interact and how brands deliver messages to audiences, it will also have significant impacts on behavior change.

VR has the capability of putting an individual into a scenario they could not have experienced otherwise. These scenarios are in turn causing behavior change for those individuals. VR immerses people into situations where additional senses and motivations can be addressed and targeted, resulting in outcomes such as improved empathy, better decision-making and other long-term behavior changes.

Brands are using VR for experiences during specific campaigns and even the Associated Press has AP360°, which is using virtual reality and 360-degree video to tell news stories. However, the major challenge with VR is that it requires special technology and there is an added expense to use it. As with technology before the emergence of VR, when consumers are able to access technology easier and less expensively, it becomes a staple in everyday life.

VR also is being tested for positive impacts on social issues, such as promoting environmentalism and helping users make better financial choices.

Stanford is designing experiments that test the efficiency of using VR to teach empathy. “Though changes are often small, [Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab] adds, studies repeatedly show that virtual reality experiences can impact thoughts and behaviors in the real world.” The tests are creating situations such as putting participants, who are not colorblind, through colorblindness VR color-matching exercises. The scientists measure the likelihood of understanding the perspective of others before and after the exercise, noting positive change from participants after the exercise. That positive change is also being applied by the participants into future, separate scenarios, demonstrating the opportunity for behavior change learned in a scenario to have long-term impacts on an individual.

The possibilities that arise with virtual reality are endless. Where do you think VR will take the industry next?