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Jul 22, 2008

The effects of self-involvement on attention, arousal, and facial expression during social interaction with virtual others

The effects of self-involvement on attention, arousal, and facial expression during social interaction with virtual others: A psychophysiological study.

Soc Neurosci. 2006;1(3-4):184-95

Authors: Mojzisch A, Schilbach L, Helmert JR, Pannasch S, Velichkovsky BM, Vogeley K

Social neuroscience has shed light on the underpinnings of understanding other minds. The current study investigated the effect of self-involvement during social interaction on attention, arousal, and facial expression. Specifically, we sought to disentangle the effect of being personally addressed from the effect of decoding the meaning of another person's facial expression. To this end, eye movements, pupil size, and facial electromyographic (EMG) activity were recorded while participants observed virtual characters gazing at them or looking at someone else. In dynamic animations, the virtual characters then displayed either socially relevant facial expressions (similar to those used in everyday life situations to establish interpersonal contact) or arbitrary facial movements. The results show that attention allocation, as assessed by eye-tracking measurements, was specifically related to self-involvement regardless of the social meaning being conveyed. Arousal, as measured by pupil size, was primarily related to perceiving the virtual character's gender. In contrast, facial EMG activity was determined by the perception of socially relevant facial expressions irrespective of whom these were directed towards.

Jul 09, 2008

Google Lively launched

Internet giant Google has unveiled its response to Second Life, an online 3D world called Lively. To play with Lively, users need to download and install a client (Windows-only for now, but a Mac OS x client is planned) and then they can use their web browser (Firefox or Internet Explorer) to enter the virtual world.

Once registered, users can set up their own spaces, change the form and clothing of their avatars, and communicate with other players via chat or gestures.  

Lively is less immersive than second life and easier to use (with a drag-and-drop interface), but it is not programmable: users can only select items from the catalog provided by Google. Further, Lively has does not have money for now, though the company is considering the introduction of a currency. 

Click to enter A place for all the cowboys.

Jul 08, 2008

Virtual reality and persecutory delusions: Safety and feasibility

Virtual reality and persecutory delusions: Safety and feasibility.

Schizophr Res. 2008 Jun 20;

Authors: Fornells-Ambrojo M, Barker C, Swapp D, Slater M, Antley A, Freeman D

OBJECTIVE: Virtual reality (VR) has begun to be used to research the key psychotic symptom of paranoia. The initial studies have been with non-clinical individuals and individuals at high risk of psychosis. The next step is to develop the technology for the understanding and treatment of clinical delusions. Therefore the present study investigated the acceptability and safety of using VR with individuals with current persecutory delusions. Further, it set out to determine whether patients feel immersed in a VR social environment and, consequently, experience paranoid thoughts. METHOD: Twenty individuals with persecutory delusions and twenty non-clinical individuals spent 4 min in a VR underground train containing neutral characters. Levels of simulator sickness, distress, sense of presence, and persecutory ideation about the computer characters were measured. A one-week follow-up was conducted to check longer-term side effects. RESULTS: The VR experience did not raise levels of anxiety or symptoms of simulator sickness. No side effects were reported at the follow-up. There was a considerable degree of presence in the VR scenario for all participants. A high proportion of the persecutory delusions group (65%) had persecutory thinking about the computer characters, although this rate was not significantly higher than the non-clinical group. CONCLUSIONS: The study indicates that brief experiences in VR are safe and acceptable to people with psychosis. Further, patients with paranoia can feel engaged in VR scenes and experience persecutory thoughts. Exposure to social situations using VR has the potential to be incorporated into cognitive behavioural interventions for paranoia.

Jun 16, 2008

Are the effects of Unreal violent video games pronounced when playing with a virtual reality system?

Are the effects of Unreal violent video games pronounced when playing with a virtual reality system?

Aggress Behav. 2008 May 27;

Authors: Arriaga P, Esteves F, Carneiro P, Monteiro MB

This study was conducted to analyze the short-term effects of violent electronic games, played with or without a virtual reality (VR) device, on the instigation of aggressive behavior. Physiological arousal (heart rate (HR)), priming of aggressive thoughts, and state hostility were also measured to test their possible mediation on the relationship between playing the violent game (VG) and aggression. The participants-148 undergraduate students-were randomly assigned to four treatment conditions: two groups played a violent computer game (Unreal Tournament), and the other two a non-violent game (Motocross Madness), half with a VR device and the remaining participants on the computer screen. In order to assess the game effects the following instruments were used: a BIOPAC System MP100 to measure HR, an Emotional Stroop task to analyze the priming of aggressive and fear thoughts, a self-report State Hostility Scale to measure hostility, and a competitive reaction-time task to assess aggressive behavior. The main results indicated that the violent computer game had effects on state hostility and aggression. Although no significant mediation effect could be detected, regression analyses showed an indirect effect of state hostility between playing a VG and aggression. Aggr. Behav. 34:1-18, 2008.

May 27, 2008

Spatial memories of virtual environments

Spatial memories of virtual environments: how egocentric experience, intrinsic structure, and extrinsic structure interact.

Psychon Bull Rev. 2008 Apr;15(2):322-7

Authors: Kelly JW, McNamara TP

Previous research has uncovered three primary cues that influence spatial memory organization:egocentric experience, intrinsic structure (object defined), and extrinsic structure (environment defined). In the present experiments, we assessed the relative importance of these cues when all three were available during learning. Participants learned layouts from two perspectives in immersive virtual reality. In Experiment 1, axes defined by intrinsic and extrinsic structures were in conflict, and learning occurred from two perspectives, each aligned with either the intrinsic or the extrinsic structure. Spatial memories were organized around a reference direction selected from the first perspective, regardless of its alignment with intrinsic or extrinsic structures. In Experiment 2, axes defined by intrinsic and extrinsic structures were congruent, and spatial memories were organized around reference axes defined by those congruent structures, rather than by the initially experienced view. The findings are discussed in the context of spatial memory theory as it relates to real and virtual environments.

Apr 14, 2008

Virtual reality exposure therapy using a virtual Iraq

Virtual reality exposure therapy using a virtual Iraq: Case report.

J Trauma Stress. 2008 Apr 10;21(2):209-213

Authors: Gerardi M, Rothbaum BO, Ressler K, Heekin M, Rizzo A

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been estimated to affect up to 18% of returning Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans. Soldiers need to maintain constant vigilance to deal with unpredictable threats, and an unprecedented number of soldiers are surviving serious wounds. These risk factors are significant for development of PTSD; therefore, early and efficient intervention options must be identified and presented in a form acceptable to military personnel. This case report presents the results of treatment utilizing virtual reality exposure (VRE) therapy (virtual Iraq) to treat an OIF veteran with PTSD. Following brief VRE treatment, the veteran demonstrated improvement in PTSD symptoms as indicated by clinically and statistically significant changes in scores on the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS; Blake et al., 1990) and the PTSD Symptom Scale Self-Report (PSS-SR; Foa, Riggs, Dancu, & Rothbaum, 1993). These results indicate preliminary promise for this treatment.

Apr 08, 2008

Virtual reality study of paranoid thinking in the general population

Virtual reality study of paranoid thinking in the general population.

Br J Psychiatry. 2008 Apr;192:258-63

Authors: Freeman D, Pugh K, Antley A, Slater M, Bebbington P, Gittins M, Dunn G, Kuipers E, Fowler D, Garety P

BACKGROUND: Judging whether we can trust other people is central to social interaction, despite being error-prone. A fear of others can be instilled by the contemporary political and social climate. Unfounded mistrust is called paranoia, and in severe forms is a central symptom of schizophrenia. AIMS: To demonstrate that individuals without severe mental illness in the general population experience unfounded paranoid thoughts, and to determine factors predictive of paranoia using the first laboratory method of capturing the experience. METHOD: Two hundred members of the general public were comprehensively assessed, and then entered a virtual reality train ride populated by neutral characters. Ordinal logistic regressions (controlling for age, gender, ethnicity, education, intellectual functioning, socio-economic status, train use, playing of computer games) were used to determine predictors of paranoia. RESULTS: The majority agreed that the characters were neutral, or even thought they were friendly. However, a substantial minority reported paranoid concerns. Paranoia was strongly predicted by anxiety, worry, perceptual anomalies and cognitive inflexibility. CONCLUSIONS: This is the most unambiguous demonstration of paranoid ideation in the general public so far. Paranoia can be understood in terms of cognitive factors. The use of virtual reality should lead to rapid advances in the understanding of paranoia.

Apr 02, 2008

Studying and Treating Schizophrenia Using Virtual Reality

Studying and Treating Schizophrenia Using Virtual Reality: A New Paradigm.

Schizophr Bull. 2008 Mar 28;

Authors: Freeman D

Understanding schizophrenia requires consideration of patients' interactions in the social world. Misinterpretation of other peoples' behavior is a key feature of persecutory ideation. The occurrence and intensity of hallucinations is affected by the social context. Negative symptoms such as anhedonia, asociality, and blunted affect reflect difficulties in social interactions. Withdrawal and avoidance of other people is frequent in schizophrenia, leading to isolation and rumination. The use of virtual reality (VR)-interactive immersive computer environments-allows one of the key variables in understanding psychosis, social environments, to be controlled, providing exciting applications to research and treatment. Seven applications of virtual social environments to schizophrenia are set out: symptom assessment, identification of symptom markers, establishment of predictive factors, tests of putative causal factors, investigation of the differential prediction of symptoms, determination of toxic elements in the environment, and development of treatment. The initial VR studies of persecutory ideation, which illustrate the ascription of personalities and mental states to virtual people, are highlighted. VR, suitably applied, holds great promise in furthering the understanding and treatment of psychosis.

Mar 31, 2008

Contribution of virtual reality to neuropsychology of memory: study in aging

Contribution of virtual reality to neuropsychology of memory: study in aging.

Psychol Neuropsychiatr Vieil. 2008 Mar;6(1):7-22

Authors: Plancher G, Nicolas S, Piolino P

The principal interest of virtual reality is its potential to create experiments close to daily life with a perfect experimental control. In a first time, we review the studies illustrating the contribution of virtual reality for neuropsychology, mainly for memory study. In a second time, we present the results of an experiment in which the subjects were driving in a virtual town, that tested all the episodic memory components, i.e. the memories of what, where and when events happened. Young and elderly adults performed the virtual test, either with intentional or incidental encoding, and either in active (they drove a virtual car) or passive exploration of the town (they were passengers). The results showed that older subjects recalled the spatiotemporal context and the details of the events in a lower proportion than younger, as well in active as in passive condition. Subject's memory complaints were correlated with the virtual scores, but not with usual verbal episodic memory tests. Therefore, virtual tests seem to allow a better assessment of episodic memory than the usual ones, especially because of their spatiotemporal memory assessment, and appear to be a hopeful tool for a neuropsychology closer to patient's daily life than the usual tests.


Mar 27, 2008

Avatars can mimic us

Via KurzweilAI.net

An international team has built vision- and speech-driven avatar technology that imitates 66 facial expressions and basic hand gestures in real time.  



Mar 26, 2008

Assessing human reorientation ability inside virtual reality environments

Assessing human reorientation ability inside virtual reality environments: the effects of retention interval and landmark characteristics.

Cogn Process. 2008 Mar 20;

Authors: Bosco A, Picucci L, Caffò AO, Lancioni GE, Gyselinck V

The purpose of the present study was to assess the navigational behaviour of adult humans following a disorientation procedure that perturbed their egocentric frame of reference. The assessment was carried out in a virtual reality (VR) environment by manipulating the disorientation procedure, the retention interval, the relative positions of target and landmark. The results of experiment I demonstrated that adding a physical rotation to a virtual disorientation procedure did not yield an additional decrease in searching performance. The results of experiment II showed that shortening the delay between study and test phase decreased the errors more markedly for geometric than landmark ones. An orientation specificity effect due to the manipulation of the relative position between target and landmark was discussed across the experiments. In conclusion, VR seemed to be a valuable method for studying human reorientation. Moreover, the virtual experimental setting involved here promoted knowledge of the relationship between working memory and spatial reorientation paradigm.

Mar 16, 2008

A second life for AI

Source: Eetimes 

Passing the Turing test - the holy grail of AI (a human conversing with a computer can't tell it's not human) - may now be possible in a limited way with the world's fastest supercomputer (IBM's Blue Gene) and mimicking the behavior of a human-controlled avatar in a virtual world, according to AI experts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "We are building a knowledge base that corresponds to all of the relevant background for our synthetic character--where he went to school, what his family is like, and so on," said Selmer Bringsjord, head of Rensselaer's Cognitive Science Department and leader of the research project. The researchers plan to engineer, from the start, a full-blown intelligent character and converse with him in an interactive virtual environment, like Second Life.


read full article here

Mar 03, 2008

Virtual reality and paranoid ideations in people with an 'at-risk mental state' for psychosis

Virtual reality and paranoid ideations in people with an 'at-risk mental state' for psychosis.

Br J Psychiatry Suppl. 2007 Dec;51:s63-8

Authors: Valmaggia LR, Freeman D, Green C, Garety P, Swapp D, Antley A, Prescott C, Fowler D, Kuipers E, Bebbington P, Slater M, Broome M, McGuire PK

BACKGROUND: Virtual reality provides a means of studying paranoid thinking in controlled laboratory conditions. However, this method has not been used with a clinical group. AIMS: To establish the feasibility and safety of using virtual reality methodology in people with an at-risk mental state and to investigate the applicability of a cognitive model of paranoia to this group. METHOD: Twenty-one participants with an at-risk mental state were assessed before and after entering a virtual reality environment depicting the inside of an underground train. RESULTS: Virtual reality did not raise levels of distress at the time of testing or cause adverse experiences over the subsequent week. Individuals attributed mental states to virtual reality characters including hostile intent. Persecutory ideation in virtual reality was predicted by higher levels of trait paranoia, anxiety, stress, immersion in virtual reality, perseveration and interpersonal sensitivity. CONCLUSIONS: Virtual reality is an acceptable experimental technique for use with individuals with at-risk mental states. Paranoia in virtual reality was understandable in terms of the cognitive model of persecutory delusions.

Processing of peripersonal and extrapersonal space using tools

Processing of peripersonal and extrapersonal space using tools: Evidence from visual line bisection in real and virtual environments.

Neuropsychologia. 2007 Dec 27;

Authors: Gamberini L, Seraglia B, Priftis K

The dissociation between peripersonal space (within reaching) and extrapersonal space (beyond reaching) has been reported in studies using the line bisection task in left neglect patients and in healthy participants. Furthermore, this dissociation can be modulated by tool use. We conducted two experiments to compare line bisection in peripersonal (i.e., 30, 60cm) and extrapersonal space (i.e., 90, 120cm). Healthy participants bisected visual lines using sticks and a laser pointer, according to the experimental paradigm of Longo and Lourenco [On the nature of near space: Effects of tool use and the transition to far space. Neuropsychologia, 44, 977-981, 2006]. In Experiment 1 participants performed line bisection in a real environment, whereas in Experiment 2 participants performed line bisection in a virtual environment. Results from both experiments revealed an abrupt midpoint shift from the peripersonal to the extrapersonal space but only when a laser pointer was used. In addition, we confirmed that peripersonal space can be extended to extrapersonal space when participants used a stick. Notably, virtual reality can be a useful technique for studying the dissociation between peripersonal and extrapersonal space and their interaction by means of tool use.

The nicotine craving experience in virtual reality

Location and longing: The nicotine craving experience in virtual reality.

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008 Feb 1;

Authors: Carter BL, Bordnick P, Traylor A, Day SX, Paris M

Considerable research suggests that cigarette craving is complex, with psychological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral aspects that are inadequately captured by typical craving assessments that focus on level of severity. That is, the experience of craving, for cigarette smokers, remains poorly understood. This study immersed smokers in different virtual reality (VR) scenarios (with and without cigarette cues present), collected detailed craving assessments, and analyzed the data using a multidimensional analytic approach. Non-treatment-seeking, nicotine dependent smokers (N=22) experienced two different virtual reality scenarios, one with cigarette cues and one without, and rated 24 descriptors related to craving. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) models demonstrate that smokers' experience of craving is qualitatively, structurally different under VR smoking cue conditions versus neutral conditions. This finding sheds new light on the complexity of craving as well as implications for its measurement.

Jan 23, 2008

Using brain-computer communication to navigate virtual environments

Brain-computer communication: motivation, aim, and impact of exploring a virtual apartment.

IEEE Trans Neural Syst Rehabil Eng. 2007 Dec;15(4):473-82

Authors: Leeb R, Lee F, Keinrath C, Scherer R, Bischof H, Pfurtscheller G

The step away from a synchronized or cue-based brain-computer interface (BCI) and from laboratory conditions towards real world applications is very important and crucial in BCI research. This work shows that ten naive subjects can be trained in a synchronous paradigm within three sessions to navigate freely through a virtual apartment, whereby at every junction the subjects could decide by their own, how they wanted to explore the virtual environment (VE). This virtual apartment was designed similar to a real world application, with a goal-oriented task, a high mental workload, and a variable decision period for the subject. All subjects were able to perform long and stable motor imagery over a minimum time of 2 s. Using only three electroencephalogram (EEG) channels to analyze these imaginations, we were able to convert them into navigation commands. Additionally, it could be demonstrated that motivation is a very crucial factor in BCI research; motivated subjects perform much better than unmotivated ones.

Jan 17, 2008

Postdoctoral Researcher in Multi User Virtual Environments for Learning

The Centre for Research in IT in Education at Trinity College, Dublin has received funding for a 3 year research project exploring the potential of Multi User Virtual Environments in Education, specifically Development Education. The project is funded by Irish Aid, Department of Foreign Affairs. Using Second Life initially, this project will design and construct virtual spaces consisting of interactive learning experiences and collaborative activities for learners and teachers/tutors to engage with the issues within Development Education. In addition to the construction, this project will devise training for both learners and tutors as well as conducting a wide ranging evaluation of the learning potential of such environments.

Position: Post-Doctoral Position
Location: Trinity College, Dublin University, Dublin, Ireland
Contract: Three year duration

(http://www. tcd.ie)

Deadline for applications: 1st February, 2008

Jan 13, 2008

Validity of virtual reality as a method of exposure in the treatment of test anxiety.

Validity of virtual reality as a method of exposure in the treatment of test anxiety.

Behav Res Methods. 2007 Nov;39(4):844-51

Authors: Alsina-Jurnet I, Carvallo-Beciu C, Gutiérez-Maldonado J

This is a validation study, aiming to explore the effectiveness of a set of virtual environments forproducing emotionally significant responses in students with high levels of test anxiety in order to be able to implement them later in treatment. Twenty-one students agreed to take part, 11 with high test anxiety and 10 with low test anxiety. The virtual environments were prepared in chronological order: the student's home, then the metro, and finally the corridor and lecture hall where the examination takes place. The results showed that the high-test-anxiety group presented higher levels of anxiety and depression than the low-test-anxiety group during exposure to the virtual environments. This study shows that virtual reality is able to provoke emotional responses in students with high test anxiety. This validation study should be followed up with treatment studies to evaluate the efficacy of virtual reality therapy for treating test anxiety.

Metaplace builds a different architecture for virtual worlds

Via Technology Review

Metaplace is building a system that's designed to treat virtual worlds like other content on the Web. With Metaplace, designers can build worlds using a markup language, style sheets, modules, and a scripting language. Every world acts like a Web server, and every object in a world has a URL. What this means for users of these worlds is that they can move seamlessly from the rest of the Web into the virtual world and back again. A user can browse to any object in a Metaplace world from outside, and every object can be linked to the rest of the Web and exchange information with Web services. 

Read full article on Technology Review 

Centrally controlled heart rate changes during mental practice in immersive virtual environment

Centrally controlled heart rate changes during mental practice in immersive virtual environment: A case study with a tetraplegic.

Int J Psychophysiol. 2007 Nov 29;

Authors: Pfurtscheller G, Leeb R, Friedman D, Slater M

A tetraplegic patient was able to induce midcentral localized beta oscillations in the electroencephalogram (EEG) after extensive mental practice of foot motor imagery. This beta oscillation was used to simulate a wheel chair movement in a virtual environment (VE). The analysis of electrocardiogram (ECG) data revealed that the induced beta oscillations were accompanied by a characteristic heart rate (HR) change in form of a preparatory HR acceleration followed by a short-lasting deceleration in the order of 10-20 bpm (beats-per-minute). This provides evidence that mental practice of motor performance is accompanied not only by activation of cortical structures but also by central commands into the cardiovascular system with its nuclei in the brain stem.