Article written by ALEX SHASHKEVICH
"As major technology firms race to roll out augmented reality products, Stanford researchers are learning how it affects people’s behavior – in both the physical world and a digitally enhanced one.
In a new study led by Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication in the School of Humanities and Sciences, researchers found that after people had an experience in augmented reality (AR) – simulated by wearing goggles that layer computer-generated content onto real-world environments – their interactions in their physical world changed as well, even with the AR device removed. For example, people avoided sitting on a chair they had just seen a virtual person sit on. Researchers also found that participants appeared to be influenced by the presence of a virtual person in a similar way they would be if a real person were next to them. These findings are set to publish May 14 in PLOS ONE.
“We’ve discovered that using augmented reality technology can change where you walk, how you turn your head, how well you do on tasks, and how you connect socially with other physical people in the room,” said Bailenson, who co-authored the paper with graduate students Mark Roman Miller, Hanseul Jun and Fernanda Herrera, who are the lead authors.
Their findings mirror much of the research Bailenson has done on virtual reality (VR). While VR attempts to simulate a real-life environment and take the user out of the present setting, AR technology layers digital information atop the user’s physical surroundings.
In recent years, many technology companies have focused on developing augmented reality goggles and other products, shifting away from their previous emphasis on virtual reality, Bailenson said.
Bailenson said today’s AR goggles can project a realistic, 3D version of an actual person in real time onto the physical surroundings of the goggles-wearer. This allows for groups of people across the world to make eye contact and communicate nonverbally in other nuanced ways – something that video conferencing struggles to achieve.
“AR could help the climate change crisis by allowing realistic virtual meetings, which would avoid the need for gas to commute or flying to meetings in person,” Bailenson said. “And this research can help bring attention to the possible social consequences of AR use at a large scale, so the technology can be designed to avoid these issues before becoming ubiquitous.”