I am recently talking to many people worried about the technologies advances: How Virtual Reality (VR) will affect our lives; How robots will be able not only to understand what we say but to recognize our feelings as well; The connection from our biological neocortex to the cloud using a synthetic neocortex… All quite overwhelming if you don´t understand how our brain works.
In this article, we will understand how virtual reality affects our brain and how the user’s experience may improve with it.
First of all, it´s important to understand that our brain is like an illusion factory. It has evolved letting human being to adapt to the environment. The neocortex, with the capability of thinking and planning, decides what´s the best for us, helping us to survive.
Though the external stimuli are read by our senses, it´s our brain the one that sees, feels, tastes, smells, hears… However, our nature has managed your hand to feel a glass of cold water.
According to Ignacio Morgado (psychobiologist and professor at the University of UAB), this is called practical illusion, as if your hand would not feel anything at all, it would not move.
The overwhelming evidence that the brain is the one who feels the touch, is that, even in those people who lost a hand (phantom limb syndrome), still continue feeling itches, pain, tickling…
Once we have a general understanding of the perceptions, let’s go straight to the point. How does Virtual Reality improve the customer experience?
Virtual Reality & Marketing
In order to create an emotional connection with the customer, brand experience need to be innovative, individual, unique and emotional.
As Roberto Álvarez (Teacher at IE Business School) states in his article, the recent neuroscientific researches prove that:
- VR builds 27% more affection and brand loyalty, compared to traditional 2D methods.
- The user increases the interaction with the content of the brand by 34% versus video or television screens.
- The contents allow exploring the virtual world and increase the emotional link with the brand
- The hyper-realistic and immersive 3D experience virtual reality proposes, creates powerful emotional connections due it’s easier to convince the brain that something is really happening.
Virtual Reality avoids many fears that consumers have. For example, when you want to reform your home and the contractor company uses Virtual Reality’s tools, he can show you how your house would look like before any change is done and any wall is thrown down. This obviously may improve the customer experience, gaining confidence not only in their decision but also in the brand.
Another example is related to travel agencies. They could generate a much funnier and enjoyable shopping experience if you would have a virtual reality trip combined with Sensory Marketing. You could smell the beach or mountain, hear some birds of the place you want to go… All together could generate an immersive experience much more powerful, viral and memorable than just going to the store and pay.
The figure below about Virtual Reality, forecast by Statista, shows the improvement of the customer experience due to VR. On the left, the global income forecast is shown in billions, and on the right, the user satisfaction after using virtual reality is shown (where “0” means bored and “10” means awesome)
Why can Virtual Reality play with our brain?
Our brain creates its own reality based on experiences lived in the past and sensory information around us, which is easy to deceive by optical illusions. When you see something that it´s familiar to you, you immediately predict what will happen next. Our brain is constantly predicting the future, and the more it does it, the more sense of presence and realism makes us feel.
Virtual Reality is able to generate a sense of presence, which makes our brain confused. Therefore, this technique is being applied not only to improve the client’s experience but also to, for example, treat people with phantom limb syndrome.
How does Virtual Reality play with our memory
A few months ago, there was the theory about brain would respond the same, regardless of the reality in which it was immersed. However, although when we use the Virtual Reality glasses we act normally, we don´t deceive the brain to believe that we really exist in virtual reality.
VR, like other technologies, has the ability to rewrite the brain, enhancing some connections and weakening others. Mayank Mehta, a neuroscientist at the University of California, LA, conducted a study to see what happened in the hippocampus (area of the brain related to processes of learning and memory) by measuring the brain response of several rats while exploring a virtual room.
In the experiment, he generated a real and a virtual identical space, in order to analyze if the active neurons were activated in the real and the virtual space as well. When comparing the brain activity in the virtual room versus the one in the real room, 60% of the hippocampal neurons had been turned off in the virtual room!
Todd Richmond (Advanced Prototypes Director; Southern California University, Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT)) explains: “When we are just seeing things and we are not hearing things correlated, this really upsets our inner ears and our brain starts to go a little whacko (crazy)”.
The researchers believe it would be able to find out how the brain generates the sensation of space in Virtual Reality in 10 years.
However, considering that VR is already here, the combination of this technique with Sensory Marketing, (helping the brain to correlate the smell, touch, sounds, etc… with Virtual Reality) seems the most significant advance.
Did you try the Virtual Reality? How was your experience?