vrml writes: People often enroll in mindfulness meditation courses to pursue better health, but can such practice have unintended consequences on how they are engaged by emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR) ? That's what comes out from a new study published by the Computers in Human Behavior journal. A group of people with no experience in meditation tried scary VR experiences with an head-mounted display, while researchers measured their emotional reactions through physiological parameters such as heart activity and facial muscles activity. Then, half participants followed a typical 8-week mindfulness course, while the other half did not (control group). At the end of the 8 weeks, they tried again VR. Participants who had practiced mindfulness during the 8 weeks were much less affected by VR: the scary VR experiences were not able to increase their heart rate as 8 weeks earlier, facial muscles activity was reduced, and their subjective perception of VR was consistent with this lack of engagement. On the contrary, the control group did not show such changes, and was still affected by VR. The paper interprets this emotional deactivation of meditators in terms of self-regulation of attention and detachment that can be gained through mindfulness, and can persist also when people (as these participants trying VR) are not meditating.
vrml writes: A study just published by the Computers in Human Behavior journal explores the potential of video games as terror attack preparedness materials for the general public. In the video game that participants tried (screenshots can be seen in the paper), players started a normal day going to a train station and performing actions such as purchasing a ticket and finding a train. Then, they suddenly found themselves in a bombing scenario that they had to survive. In addition to showing that playing the game greatly increased players’ knowledge about preparedness, the study also considered a second group of participants who did not play the game but watched instead a video of the game play. Results indicate that passively watching someone else play the game is as effective as actively playing the game in terms of learning preparedness knowledge. However, they also point out a significant difference concerning psychological effects on threat appraisal: general perception of personal vulnerability to terror attacks and their severity increased more in those who actively played the game rather than those who passively watched game play.
vrml writes: Computer-based simulations of emergency evacuations increasingly use 3D graphics. However, it is difficult for users to follow the action by manually controlling the viewpoint to catch many different events affecting large groups of virtual characters. A new solution, inspired by cinematography, is described in a paper just published by the Computers & Graphics journal, and demonstrated in this video. The real-time, automatic camera control system exploits AI techniques to model a combination of abilities typical of the camera operator (choosing proper camera positions and angle to shoot some events) and the director (review shots and edit them). The video shows how the system can respond to user’s requests by automatically producing different movies of the same simulation of a full Airbus 320 evacuation.
vrml writes: You are looking for the exit of a building in a virtual reality experience when a virtual character gets stuck in a room and cries for your help. Could the color of the skin (black or white) of the virtual human influence your decision to provide or refuse help? That's what comes out from a new study published by the Computers in Human Behavior journal. White users were told that they had to reach the exit of the virtual building as soon as possible. The number of users who decided to help tripled when the virtual victim was white rather than black. Researchers tried also other conditions in which they did not put users under time pressure: this reduced the discrimination, although the number of users who helped remained more favorable for the white rather than the black virtual human. The paper explains these results in terms of the automatic categorization processes that originate from unwanted, unconscious social and cultural biases: putting people under pressure increases automatic responses, leading to more discrimination towards the black character.
vrml writes: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says that when a plane has to perform a water landing (ditching), passengers must be able to wear life vests within 25 seconds. Unfortunately, FAA research also shows that passengers do not pay attention or do not clearly comprehend the pre-flight briefings and safety cards used by airlines to instruct them. To face the issue in a novel and more fun way, the HCI Lab at the University of Udine has just published a free Life Vest app, available for smartphones and tablets (Android, Apple, Windows Mobile) . Life Vest is an interactive game that allows you to try what to do in a water landing with a 3D experience. Through three different levels, you can interact with the game character to make it wear the life vest properly and to hopefully jump out of the plane alive. You can also face time challenges and compare your results with those of your friends and other players. The 3D model of the life vest is an high-fidelity reproduction of a real vest used by many airlines.
vrml writes: Biofeedback is well-known as a relaxation technique, but the HCI Lab of the University of Udine has tried to use it for the opposite purpose: making people anxious. The technique, described by a paper in the November 2014 issue of the Interacting with Computers journal, exploits heartbeat detection. While users navigated a 3D world, the computer detected and played their actual heartbeat (users were not told it was theirs) in the audio background of the virtual world. At a couple of times during the experience, the application artificially increased the frequency of the played heartbeat and then reverted it to the actual one after some seconds. The study described in the paper contrasts the technique with aversive stimuli frequently used in video games when the character gets hurt such as decreasing health bars or increasing the frequency of an heartbeat sound that is not related to the user’s actual heartbeat. The biofeedback-based technique produced much larger (subjective as well as physiological) levels of user anxiety than those classic aversive stimuli.
vrml writes: Controlled breathing exercises are used for a variety of purposes including health (for example, reducing anxiety and lowering blood pressure), meditation (for example, Yogic breathing) and military operations (for example, Tactical Breathing). A growing number of breathing training apps is thus cropping up in on-line stores, but their actual effectiveness had never been evaluated. The Computers in Human Behavior journal has now published the first comparative study of breathing training apps . Researchers have first surveyed the available apps, identifying three main types. Many breathing training apps limit themselves to play audio instructions files, while others attempt to use the graphics capabilities of smartphones to provide visual instructions. Typical visual interfaces either use an animated element such as a sphere that inflates and deflates as the user’s lungs should do or they visualize the entire breathing pattern moving over a time axis (see Figures 1 and 2 in the paper). The study evaluated the effectiveness of the three types of apps both objectively by measuring respiratory patterns of users and subjectively by asking them to rate the apps on different scales. Results show that the studied breathing training apps are effective in supporting users, especially when traditional audio instructions are augmented with an animated visualization of the entire breathing pattern moving over time.
vrml writes: A novel brain imaging study published by the prestigious Neuroimage journal sheds light on different reactions that players’ brains display when they meet a virtual character in a game world. While their head was inside a fMRI machine, participants played an interactive virtual experience in which they had to survive a serious fire emergency in a building by reaching an exit as soon as possible. However, when they finally arrived at the exit, they also found a virtual character trapped under an heavy cabinet, begging them for help. Some participants chose not to help the character and took the exit, while others stopped to help although the fire became more and more serious and moving away the cabinet required considerable time. Functional brain imaging showed activation of very different brain areas of players when they met the character. When there was an increased functional connectivity of the brain salience network, which suggests an enhanced sensitivity to the threatening situation and potential danger, players ignored the character screams and went for the exit. In those players who helped the character, there was an engagement of the medial prefrontal and temporo-parietal cortices, which in the neuroscience literature are associated with the human ability of taking the perspective of other individuals and making altruistic choices. The paper concludes by emphasizing how virtual worlds can be a salient and ecologically valid stimulus for modern social neuroscience.
vrml writes: In medicine, it is well-known that sugar pills sometimes produce the same effects as real drugs (Placebo Effect). But could that happen with computers too? Can it be that the things a computer application claims to do are “all in our mind” and the app is actually a sham? The first scientific study of the Placebo Effect in computing, just published by the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies , gives an affirmative answer. The experiment considered affective computing, that is those fancy applications that claim to know user’s emotions by detecting physiological parameters with sensors. Researchers took two well-known affective computing systems and used them to control in real-time the state of an avatar that looked more and more nervous as users’ stress level increased, and more and more relaxed as it decreased. But they also considered a third system in which, unbeknown to users, the sensors were disconnected from the computer and the avatar state was controlled by a random stream of physiological data instead of the real user’s data. Results show that participants believed that the sham application was able to display their stress level. Even worse, only one of the two (costly) affective computing systems produced better results than the placebo. This suggests that evaluations of such novel computer applications should include also a placebo condition, as it is routinely done in medicine but not yet in computer science.
vrml writes: As the player feels inner anger rising, the in-game character gets angry too and starts shouting and smashing things. Then, the player relaxes and the game character calms down and smiles. This is the kind of game control supported by a system demonstrated in a video released today by the Human-Computer Interaction Lab of the University of Udine. The system detects player's emotional state by using physiological sensors to measure player's skin conductance, facial muscles activity and cardiac parameters. It has been used to build gamified relaxation training and stress inoculation training applications.
vrml writes: They revealed the existence of their project only to aviation safety specialists at the recent FAA Conference on Cabin Safety in Philadelphia . Now a team of Italian researchers from the HCI Lab of the University of Udine has publicly released the first in a set of aviation safety apps on which they are working. Their mission is to propose novel, first-of-their-kind solutions to a well-known problem in aviation safety: passengers lack preparedness about what to do in aircraft emergencies, and do not pay attention or do not clearly comprehend the pre-flight briefings and safety cards used by airlines to instruct them about safety. So the project is re-inventing safety cards and briefings with new media, turning them into games and apps. The first game they decided to release focuses specifically on the “Brace for impact” position: players can pose the body of their avatar in the 3D airplane cabin and get a personalized simulation of a crash landing . To win the game, you must save your avatar (and yourself).
vrml writes: Do you remember the classic Snake game on mobile phones? Now a university lab has built a mobile, augmented reality version of Snake that superimposes the game world on the real world to encourage walking. First, the smartphone detects players' position and retrieves the satellite photograph of the area that will be used as a playing field. Then, the player controls the Snake in the game by walking in the real-world, using GPS. A video demo of this 21st century Snake is available on YouTube , while a technical paper with a detailed user evaluation of the exergame is available at this link.
vrml writes: Critical situations in which participant's actions lead to the death of (virtual) humans have been employed in a study of moral dilemmas, just appeared in the Social Neuroscience journal. The experiment has shown that participants’ behavior becomes more utilitarian (that is, they tend to minimize the number of persons killed) when they have to take a decision in Virtual Reality (VR) rather than the more traditional settings used in Moral Psychology which ask participants to read text descriptions of the critical situations. A video with some of the VR moral dilemmas is available at this link, while the paper can be downloaded at this link.