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Jillian Renken

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Soft Skills, VR-Related

Three Examples of Virtual Reality (VR) in the Courtroom

An increasing number of educators and attorneys are bringing immersive virtual environments (IVE’s) to the courtroom in different ways. Below are three examples of how VR is being leveraged in legal settings.

Moot Court

The law school at The University of Ottowa is among the first programs to conduct moot court sessions in VR. Moot court simulates a court hearing in which students argue to appeal a case. They must prepare legal research, write briefs, and complete oral arguments in front of a panel of judges. Although these simulations are typically held in classrooms made to look like courtrooms, the COVID-19 pandemic halted all in-person trials, forcing the university to explore other options for holding moot court. They decided to implement VR into their curriculum to solve this problem, but as physical courtrooms became available again, faculty pushed to continue using the technology. According to Ritesh Kotak, a third-year Juris Doctor student, virtual reality “includes everything you can imagine from customizing a courtroom” to “doing training, and getting students excited.” Kotak asserts “The metaverse is here to stay so, from an educational perspective and a judicial perspective, there’s a lot of merit to using it.”

Crime Scenes/Evidence Viewing

In a recent study at the University of South Australia, researchers measured the discrepancy in jurors being shown a crime scene through a series of photographs versus being immersed in the same exact crime scene in virtual reality. Two groups of 15 participants were asked to come to a verdict on a deadly hit and run scenario. Not only were the VR participants “significantly more accurate in remembering the correct placement of evidence items”, but they came to a nearly unanimous decision, while the other participants were completely divided in their decision. Overall, 13 of the 15 participants who viewed the crime scene in VR ruled “death by dangerous driving”, while 8 of the 15 people who only viewed photographs voted on a more lenient “death by driving without due care.” Because more information can be presented in VR, participants were able to better understand the situation at hand, and thus were 9.5 times more likely to choose the “death by dangerous driving “ verdict. Although some people may be hesitant to implement VR due to its high price tag, the cost would be negligible juxtaposed to the immense cost of organizing on-site crime scene visits. Between transporting the jury and scheduling the trial to work with everyone’s schedules, it can cost thousands of dollars, whereas recreating a crime scene in VR is relatively inexpensive. If virtual reality presents the evidence of a crime in a more accurate manner, thousands, if not, hundreds of thousands of trials could reach different, more just verdicts. Dr Andrew Cunningham, from UniSA’s Australian Research Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments, believes that this study “provides unequivocal evidence that interactive technology leads to fairer and more consistent verdicts, and indeed could be the future of courtrooms.”

Pre-trial Exposure for Lawyers and Those Taking The Stand

From a preparation standpoint, VR offers benefits to both lawyers and those taking the stand. Lawyers typically practice their cases in front of other experts to test their performance under the pressure and stress that they will most likely face in the courtroom. With the help of virtual reality, lawyers can practice arguing their case in front of a virtual crowd, which is proven to simulate a similar emotional experience to that of a real courtroom. Furthermore, if lawyers view a crime scene in VR, they will have a better understanding of the witness’s perspective pre-trial and may even increase out of court settlements. With VR, witnesses can also prepare themselves for questioning and depositions. By running through a trial beforehand, they will be better prepared to tell their story, be questioned by lawyers, and avoid experiencing the emotional rollercoaster that many witnesses face.

Foretell Reality is a VR platform for simulations and role play training including features like personalizable avatars, realistic environments, and 360 video viewing. Visit us today for a demo.

Mindfulness, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

Four Real World Examples of VR for Mindfulness and Meditation

According to a Harvard Health, mindfulness is “a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness” and is known to “help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.” 

Despite its benefits, however, mindfulness training can be intimidating to non-practitioners and particularly difficult for remote participants. This has lead researchers to investigate how Virtual Reality (VR) can be used to lower the barriers and increase the efficacy of meditation practice for a variety of purposes and populations. Below are four recent examples.

To Increase Positive Emotion in the General Population

A recent study out of Melbourne, Australia is one of several that points to VR as a viable option for improving mental health and mindfulness. Mindfulness is a great way to improve mental health, however, under normal circumstances, is a difficult habit to adopt due to environmental and personal distractions. Virtual Reality (VR) directly addresses these challenges “by providing an immersive environment for practicing mindfulness and by supporting the user to orient attention to the present moment within a tailored virtual setting.” A group of 37 participants were recruited to trial a VR mindfulness app in which users were presented with 360 video of a “peaceful forest environment with a guided mindfulness voiceover.” Researchers analyzed participant scores on the State Mindfulness Scale, Simulator Sickness Questionnaire, arousal, and positive or negative emotion before and after users participated in the simulation. Although there were initial concerns about simulator sickness and negative emotion, neither of these variables produced any notable changes following the simulation. However, state mindfulness and positive emotion significantly increased, participants reporting that “the use of VR helped them to focus on the present moment by using visual and auditory elements of VR as attentional anchors.” The spatial presence of virtual environments allowed participants to practice mindfulness and meditation, positively affecting their mental health and well-being.

To Reduce Stress In the Workplace

A study out of England analyzed workplace stress specifically in the National Health Service (NHS) and tested the effectiveness of Virtual Reality in decreasing levels of stress and promoting overall well being. “Work-related stress, defined as ‘a harmful reaction that people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work’ is one of the most important emerging risks in occupational management and health.” This stress is threatening not only the quality of services provided, but the sustainability of vital healthcare systems and corporations around the world. Researchers provided a 10-minute VR relaxation experience to 39 trauma staff working in a fast-paced environment. Following the session, participants “reported significantly increased feelings of happiness and relaxation, and significantly decreased feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety.” Furthermore, patients experienced a significant reduction in heart rate and yielded high acceptability ratings. Ultimately, the study found that VR relaxation sessions were beneficial to the health and well-being of healthcare workers, and many were excited at the opportunity to implement it into their everyday lives.

To Help Treat Opioid Addiction

VR mindfulness and relaxation are also being implemented in the midst of the opioid epidemic. This epidemic is an ever-so-present problem in our society, and the key to preventing further damage is by exploring viable alternatives to pain relief. According to The Gate Theory of Pain proposed by Melzack and Wall in 1965, “a person may interpret pain stimuli differently depending upon mental/emotional factors such as attention paid to the pain, emotions associated with the pain, and past experience of the pain.” Believe it or not, we can essentially “distract” our way out of pain. Virtual Reality addresses two of Melzack and Wall’s points – attention and emotional state. Through VR technology, patients can escape to an alternate reality, sending positive signals to their brain and subsequently lessening the pain they are experiencing. This technology dates back to 1996, when the Harborview Burn Center “successfully piloted the use of VR for burn patients with severe acute pain,” which inspired other providers to make VR technology accessible to patients experiencing acute pain. Recent studies have shown promising results for relieving chronic pain as well, patients reporting high levels of satisfaction and a significant reduction in overall pain. Although VR cannot fully take the place of opioids, it can definitely be used as an alternative for certain candidates, considering their level of pain and potential risk factors.

To Act As A Moderator of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

Virtual Reality is another promising candidate as a moderator of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy (PP), a “unique psychopharmacological model that leverages the profound effects of the psychedelic experience.” PP is highly reliant on two key factors – the patient’s mindset and their surrounding environment. Consequently, meditation, relaxation, and visualization are supplemental tools in creating the most effective environment for this therapy. Virtual Reality is a promising candidate to provide these tools, given its evidenced capacity to “aid relaxation and reduce anxiety; buffer from external stimuli; promote a mindful presence; train the mind to achieve altered states of consciousness (ASC); evoke mystical states; enhance therapeutic alliance and encourage self-efficacy.” Because there was little empirical evidence on the joint application of VR technology in Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy, researchers aimed to gather evidence on the ability to achieve a deeper sense of consciousness in a virtual environment. 

They found 7 different ways that VR can be used to support psychedelic treatments:

1. Mitigate psychological side effects through enhancing the state of relaxation,

2. Help participants sustain their focus on intention by removing familiar cues that keep them tethered to their external world,

3. Encourage entering the inner world of experience by inducing a mindful presence,

4. Deepen the intensity of acute psychological and emotional states via simultaneous targeting of ME-evoking pathways,

5. Prime the capacity to achieve an altered states of consciousness (ASC) through familiarization and comfort with the ASC experience,

6. Enhance and maintain a hierarchy-free therapeutic alliance that is consistent throughout treatment,

7. Strengthen resilience and a sense of agency around facing challenging experiences.

It is also important to note the comfort and safety of the environments that VR provides, allowing patients to temporarily distract themselves from the emotionally taxing process of overcoming and treating PTSD or related disorders. Researchers ultimately recommend that VR be introduced into PP, as long as it is “developed in accordance with a robust protocol…and accompanied by thorough training of any practitioners involved in therapy.” Virtual Reality has the ability to transform the future of psychedelic treatments, as long as appropriate precautions are taken to not introduce disturbing or traumatic triggers or distract from the inner narrative.

The Foretell Reality platform provides safe VR environments to support various mental health treatment protocols including those that incorporate mindfulness training and relaxation experiences as part of the protocol. To learn more about our platform, please reach out to us for a demo.

Therapy and Support, VR-Related

How VR can address shortcomings of video-based group telemental health sessions

In person group-based intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) have shown promising results for adults with serious mental illnesses. At the start of pandemic, these IOPs were forced to meet remotely through video-based telemental health (TMH) platforms presenting an opportunity to better understand the benefits and drawbacks of online group therapy.

A recent study from the Mayo Clinic focused on TMH group-based IOPs, providing insight into the effectiveness of and overall patient satisfaction with this type of treatment. Researchers interviewed 76 patients with diagnosed serious mental illness (SMI) who participated in an online video group based IOP.

Researchers gathered their data using a 17-item questionnaire covering 3 areas: “IOP TMH satisfaction, future recommendations, and video technology challenges.” According to the feedback they received, “the majority of patients reported high satisfaction, comfort, appropriateness, relevance, and compatibility” of the TMH service, 92.5% of them reporting “that they would recommend this service format to a friend or family member.” Most patients were glad to have the option for treatment during COVID, one even commenting that it was “just like being in a room full of people” and it “saved [their] life.” 

Despite the fact that group telehealth was viewed favorably overall, there were reported challenges during the program. Slow internet connection, poor video camera quality, login problems, and accidental removal from the session were the most highly reported of these challenges. One of the participants noted that the Zoom meetings didn’t feel as welcoming, and “’there couldn’t really be a discussion [as if they were] sitting in the same room.’” Another wanted “more collaboration among the patients.”

Other participants wished they had used “’more of the Zoom features such as the whiteboard,’” or recommended “’some tabs to find things [easier].”’ There seemed to be a large disconnect with the learning materials in general. Patients suggested that administrators work on “improving the structure of the binder.” Some of the patients didn’t like the program at all because of the video format and desired something more immersive and interactive.  

Though the study affirms that remote group therapy was well received in general, there were clear deficiencies noted. Virtual Reality (VR) for group therapy addresses many of these concerns and offers other benefits not possible through video-based TMH.

poor video camera quality”

Instead of sitting in front of a camera, group therapy in VR allows participants to sit, lie down, or walk around in their physical environment. More importantly, everyone is portrayed as a personalized avatar which creates a consistent visual and auditory experience regardless of room lighting or camera or microphone quality. The need not to be on camera also takes away judgement of physical appearance and removes outside environmental distractions.

“there couldn’t really be a discussion [as if they were] sitting in the same room”

Unlike group video sessions in which everyone is arranged on a flat grid, VR sessions are held in a shared, 3D environment. This means that participants who look around the room will see one another from the same perspective as they would in the physical world. For example, to see the person who is slightly out of view to my left, I would turn my head in that direction and they would appear in front of me. Since everyone is sitting in a shared environment, they also see the same things as one another creating a stronger sense of connection.

“more of the Zoom features such as the whiteboard”

Just as with Zoom, VR offers many tools for collaboration and instruction including white boards, sticky notes, and media presenting. But VR also provides the ability to manipulate and pass 3D objects, draw in space, and watch fully enveloping 360 video.

“more collaboration among the patients” 

True collaboration in Zoom in a challenge because we as humans collaborate in 3D space. VR provides the ability to collaborate in ways not possible on Zoom whether that means team building exercises, collaborative role play with avatars, or simple games that bring people together.

“improving the structure of the binder”

A foundation of many IOPs is the presentation of a structured curriculum which is outlined in binders provided to patients who follow along during each session. With limited space to view and absorb material, video sessions present a challenge when it comes to conveying this material. With VR, patients can reference their binder from their own personal screen while also collectively viewing material on the therapists screen(s). Navigating between materials and interacting with them is much more intuitive as it mimics the 3D world.

VR also provides benefits not identified above. For example, avatars allow for exploration of identity, role play activities and anonymity if desired. All or parts of sessions can be recorded and played back in 3D allowing for analysis and reflection from the group. And analytics such as time spent speaking and direction of gaze provide insights for both patient and therapist.

Foretell Reality is an avatar-based, multi-participant virtual reality platform specifically designed for group therapy and support. Please click here for more information or to schedule a demo.

Soft Skills, VR-Related

Virtual Reality (VR) For Teaching Interpersonal and Professional Skills in Special Needs Education

With its ability to simulate real world learning exercises and ‘teleport’ students to historically accurate or imagined worlds, Virtual Reality (VR) is being used to teach academic subjects ranging from STEM to Shakespeare. These same features of VR are also being explored to teach a different type of subject matter to those with learning disabilities.  One that focuses more on interpersonal development and professional skills development.

Spaulding Academy & Family Services is among multiple special education schools implementing VR into their curriculum and seeing measurable results. Their goal was to meet the needs of all their students, centering their experiences around “physiological and sensory regulation, emotional regulation, skill-building, social interaction, and transitions.” Students with limited mobility were directly catered to; their sensory needs being met by using a VR headset and essentially “tricking” the “vestibular-ocular system into feeling that it is receiving needed movement stimulation.” From an emotional regulation outlook, VR provides a calming experience if students are overstimulated throughout the day, ruling out the possibility of heightened emotions or a classroom crisis. Results have been very promising for Spaulding Academy; VR has opened the door for students to control their emotions, find a safe space when needed, and strengthen their communication skills. 

Implementation goes beyond emotional control – students on the autism spectrum are also utilizing VR for job preparedness. A pilot study was conducted in an effort to improve interview skills among autistic adolescents. Participants were divided into an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group underwent 10 hours of interview training with a virtual avatar, resulting in overall improved interview skills and employment outcomes. Further research will likely be conducted to predict the efficacy of implementing VR training into special education programs across the country. 

A study conducted back in 2018 was one of the first indicators that VR technology could be used for more than just gaming – Using virtual reality to train emotional and social skills in children with autism spectrum disorder. Researchers studied 94 children who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and displayed poor social and communication skills. One of the most significant obstacles faced in this disorder is responding with appropriate facial expressions when in conversation. The subjects took part in “six VR scenarios depicting the daily lives of typical children in Hong Kong”, followed by a debriefing session to apply what they learned in real life. Results suggested that “children from [the] training group scored higher on emotion expression and regulation” as well as “higher on social interaction and adaptation” following the training. In the weeks after the study, “many parents expressed that their children were much more proactive in greeting and communicating with neighbors and relatives,” which led to engaging more in conversations and subsequently making more friends. Since the results of this study were released, there have been countless other studies with similar results – increased self-awareness, communication skills, and expression recognition.

Foretell Reality is a VR platform that provides safe, secure environments, customizable environments, and tools for trainers and educators to facilitate role play and simulation training for skills for the real world.

Soft Skills, VR-Related

6 Examples of VR Increasing Empathy

Virtual Reality (VR) is often called an ’empathy machine’ for its ability to alter ingrained perspectives and unconscious biases. Unlike watching a video, reading a book, or hearing a lecture, VR acts as a focused lens into a fully realized world and, through that lens, provides experiences that are deeply moving and difficult to ignore.

What does this mean in practical terms? Here are six examples of how VR is being used right now to increase empathy both personally and professionally.

#1: Business

With the state of the current job market, employees are leaving businesses faster than ever in search of a better company culture. According to a recent survey of U.S. employees, HR professionals, and CEOs, 93% of employees reported they would stay with an empathetic employer, while 82% of employees would leave their position to work for a more empathetic organization. Major companies like Accenture are already using VR empathy training for their leadership and employees to increase retention, morale, and productivity. And Bank of America recently launched VR training programs in 4300 financial centers for the purpose of “strengthening and deepening relationships with clients, navigating difficult conversations, and listening and responding with empathy.”

#2: International Relations

In a recent study out of France, a team of researchers analyzed the effectiveness of VR empathy training to increase global empathy and interest in learning about other counties. This included exposing U.S. high school students to cultures and environments around the world.

In that case, researchers found that VR allows “users to literally step into the shoes of others and see the world from their perspective,” which has “shown significant plasticity of empathetic abilities even after the experience by decreasing implicit racial biases and increasing of mimicry of outgroup members.” The team ultimately concluded that immersive VR experiences are a powerful tool in developing empathy, awareness, and altruistic behavior.

#3: Social Work

Social work is a profession that often requires empathy on a daily basis. A recent pilot study from a New York social work program leveraged 360 video to transport students to a realistic urban environment “with the goal of helping them learn about how its history, resources, demographics, and physical space impacts its inhabitants. The study found that participants felt that the experience, combined with reflective questions, “made them feel engaged and thoughtful, and able to better learn social work concepts.”

VR also provides the ability to virtually embody an avatar and enter a simulation with other students in order to practice various scenarios in real time. The ability to personalize the avatar opens up exploration of biases in dealing with different genders and races in a safe, practice environment.

#4: Medicine

It can be difficult for doctors to empathize with their patients for a variety of reasons. It is also essential to a healthy recover for doctors and patients to have a strong, trusting relationship . In a recent study, medical students leveraged VR technology to simulate being in the shoes of a patient with age-related conditions such as macular degeneration, high-frequency hearing loss, or even Alzheimer’s disease.

Following VR exposure, students exemplified a stronger “understanding of age-related health problems and increased their empathy for older adults” with various diseases or disorders. Another way VR is being applied in medical education is by staging difficult conversations with family members about terminal illnesses or end-of-life steps. By witnessing a variety of different reactions, doctors can tailor their delivery in order to be accommodating, patient, and prevent overly chaotic interactions. 

#5: Law Enforcement

Empathy training has also been a staple for many law enforcement agencies. In a recent study, a group of police officers underwent empathy training, which significantly affected their behavioral patterns and led to “roughly 26 percent fewer arrests one week after the training.” Officers were also “over 50 percent less likely to use force in an encounter,” which increased cooperation and strengthened communication between officers and citizens. Overall, empathy training is leading to better outcomes within the community as a whole.

#6: Conflict Zones

Empathy is especially crucial in conflict zones and disaster response. The International Committee of the Red Cross recently ran an immersive VR workshop in order to generate empathy for those affected by conflict and violence. By the end of the session, participants were equipped to “understand humanitarian approaches to storytelling in conflict zones and representing people affected by violence.” Aside from the storytelling aspect, emergency responders are given the tools to understand other people’s pain and trauma responses before being thrown into a conflict zone or responding to a natural disaster.

Promising results in many research studies across multiple fields and professions show that VR is an effective method of empathy training. Now that headsets more prevalent and affordable, it is time to bring VR empathy training from studies into the forefront. Foretell Reality is a VR platform that provides safe, secure environments, customizable environments, and tools for trainers and educators to facilitate role play and simulation training for empathy and other human skills for the real world.

Therapy and Support, VR-Related

Recent Study: Social VR Provides Real Mental Health Benefits

According to the Mayo Clinic, “socializing not only staves off feelings of loneliness, but also it helps
sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increases your sense of happiness and well-being, and
may even help you live longer.”

But what do you do if in person social interactions could be dangerous to your physical health?

A recent study out of the Netherlands analyzed the psychological benefits of using social virtual reality
platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers posited that “by offering (virtual) spaces where users can hang out, chat, and play games together in apparent physical proximity, social VR apps could be especially well-suited to foster feelings of social connection among users.”

Based off a dataset of 220 surveys of respondents who were active users of social VR platforms during the pandemic, the study looked at how both social presence and spatial presence affected three different areas – relatedness, establishing meaningful and rich social interactions, self-expansion, going into unchartered territory to widen our understanding of who we are and how we view life, and enjoyment, taking pleasure in something.

After analyzing the results of the surveys, researchers wrote that the “findings suggest that social VR can provide psychological benefits in terms of relatedness, self-expansion, and enjoyment, which are associated with the immersive properties of the medium.”

Among the study’s highlights:

Spatial presence predicts relatedness, self-expansion, and enjoyment.

A sense of spatial presence, a “users’ sense of being physically located in, and enveloped by, the virtual
environment,” was a key contributor in relatedness, self-expansion, and enjoyment. Directly
interacting with a virtual environment elevated the user experience and made social VR
platforms much more rewarding through the natural interactions that it fostered.”

Social presence predicts relatedness and enjoyment, but not self-expansion.

The feeling of social presence, “a users’ sensation of being physically co-located and socially connected with others,” was another predictor in relatedness and enjoyment but did not involve self-
expansion.

Playful activities are associated with self-expansion psychological benefits.

Contrary to popular belief, taking part in playful activities, such as gaming or
exploring virtual worlds correlated with a high level of satisfaction and obtained psychological
benefits. Socialization activities are associated with relatedness and enjoyment outcomes.

With Omicron potentially signaling the end of the pandemic, social distancing guidelines will be rescinded, but the need for social VR platforms will not waiver. Terminally ill hospital patients, people with
high social anxiety, or even shy teens can fulfill their needs for social interaction through virtual
reality. According to the researchers, in a low-risk environment that offers anonymity, “social VR
can help users satisfy their psychological need for relatedness, that is, the need for establishing
meaningful and rich social interactions, which is considered a fundamental human
psychological need.”

Foretell Reality is a social VR platform that provides safe spaces for therapy and support, soft skills development, and other interpersonal activities like real time collaboration and group events. Please visit our website for more information or to schedule a demo.

Therapy and Support

Needs of LGBTQ+ Community in VR

One of the greatest advantages of using VR technology is the anonymity aspect – for the LGBTQ+ community, this is revolutionary. People who have not yet “come out” can interact with others who may be facing a similar obstacle and use the technology as a powerful outlet to receive support, create genuine bonds, and gain confidence in their sexuality.

However, one of the greatest disadvantages of using VR technology is also the anonymity aspect. With anonymity comes a lack of responsibility for one’s actions. According to a recent ARPost article, LGBTQ+ members consistently face harassment and abuse within the Meta, “taking the form of vitriolic and toxic comments about a person’s sexuality or gender” and “leaving victims suffering from trauma.”

What could be used as a powerful tool in gaining support from peers has repeatedly proven to worsen user’s mental health and self-esteem. Although efforts have been made to ward off this cyberbullying, it’s still very difficult to monitor and control a user’s actions in an open VR environment. User privacy is another critical problem in virtual reality. Certain applications may collect “highly personal biometric data, such as your fingerprints, face geometry, and/or eye scans,” but the real danger lies in the fact that these companies are able to use or sell your information however they see fit.

This could be a terrifying ordeal for members in the LGBTQ+ community, especially those living in third-world countries that have discriminatory laws in place. The lack of inclusivity in VR environments also drives LGBTQ+ users away. Although many companies boast their customizable avatars, they only represent the cisgender, straight characters, which automatically excludes a vast majority of the LGBTQ+ community. In order to have its full effect, VR applications must learn to represent minorities as well.

The good news is that there are outlets that promote safe, inclusive, and diverse environments within virtual reality. Foretell Reality is a platform that enables authentic human interactions in immersive environments designed to facilitate communication, collaboration, and learning. Sessions are HIPPA compliant, moderated, and accessible by invite only, eliminating the possibility for harassment, bullying, and selling of personal information. Anonymity in therapy and support groups allows participants to shield their identity if they aren’t ready to come out but are still seeking support and advice. If you’re interested in the power of these safe spaces, please visit our website for more information or to schedule a demo.

Soft Skills, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

The Metaverse Needs Safe Spaces

I think we’ve all heard by now that Facebook has rebranded itself to “Meta.” What many of us have failed to realize, though, is the widespread implications of that. According to Mark Zuckerberg, society will use the metaverse to connect with family and friends, create their own homes, and invite people into it. Zuckerberg believes this will create “the feeling of presence: the defining quality of the metaverse.” Social VR is extremely valuable in this aspect – it’s a fun and exciting way to connect with people, especially in situations where you may be geographically too far to meet with someone in real life. You also have the ability to safely do activities that you may not be able to do in real life, such as extreme mountain biking, skydiving, off-roading, racing, or taking part in shooting games. However, with an increase in life-like realities, comes the ever-so-present threat of harassment. 

Just days after Meta released their platform “Horizon Worlds” to the public, many women came forward about their experiences with sexual harassment. In a recent Bloomberg article, a woman described that she didn’t necessarily feel unsafe, but “was uncomfortable, and there were no clear rules about etiquette and personal space.” Her entire experience seemed to be tainted by the imminent presence of griefers: people who disrupt others just to annoy them. Although there are numerous moderators to protect users from this behavior as well as harassment, it is a considerably difficult task to process a spoken language, visible gestures, and body language, rather than simply scanning a text online. 

In an effort to combat this, Meta offers a “Safe Zone”, but many users have not been informed of this feature, and thus do not have the ability to block their perpetrators.  Zuckerberg’s promise that “privacy and safety will be built into the metaverse from day one” seems to be falling short due to a lack of investment in user education. This isn’t a new problem by any means, though. According to the MIT Technology Review, this began as early as 2016 when a woman was harassed in a VR zombie game. She recalls, “There I was, being virtually groped in a snowy fortress with my brother-in-law and husband watching.” It may not seem like a big deal, but a recent beta tester of Horizon Worlds disagrees: “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense.” Researchers of online harassment assert that the fully immersive aspect of 3D environments “tricks the user into thinking they are physically in a certain space, that their every bodily action is occurring in a 3D environment,” which is why “VR triggers the same internal nervous system and psychological responses.”

So how does a platform that was built on the foundation of inclusivity and an ability to meet people of all different backgrounds can become a threatening place, full of discomfort for some? The common denominator between all of these incidents is unrestricted environments and an abuse of anonymity.

The good news is that the metaverse is larger than one company and the applications for VR for positive social interactions are game changing. Foretell Reality is a social VR platform that provides safe spaces for therapy and support, soft skills development, and other interpersonal activities like real time collaboration and live simulations. Please visit our website for more information or to schedule a demo.

Soft Skills

Three Examples of VR Soft Skills Training for Today’s World

Soft skills have commonly been overlooked in a society that values technical skills, or “hard skills.” Hard skills are more easily measured and therefore often the sole criteria for landing a job. So, the saying goes “hard skills get you hired, but a lack of soft skills will get you fired.” With a changing job market and a rise in social consciousness, employers are increasingly seeking out employees with strong soft skills – disturbed by the lack of communication and critical thinking skills within their current teams. Soft skills are applicable to every profession and give way to more meaningful interactions with co-workers. Let’s dive into a couple of the fields that have utilized Virtual Reality (VR) to strengthen soft skills.

As a police officer, you can expect to face a variety of hard-to-navigate situations over the course of your career. No amount of training can prepare you for high-risk environments involving adrenaline and the requirement to respond quickly. It all comes down to reflexes. The only problem is you can’t train your reflexes; they occur without conscious thought. What you can do is strengthen your soft skills: conflict resolution, communication, negotiation, self-control, empathy, patience, and active listening. The Athens County Sheriff’s Department is among the first of law enforcement agencies who have come to this realization, implementing VR soft skills training into their annual in-service this past fall. Rather than preparing for physical altercations or target practice, officers used VR headsets to immerse themselves in high-risk scenarios, strengthening their soft skills and giving them the tools to de-escalate situations in future encounters. By experiencing multiple different conflicts commonly encountered in the field, officers learned to avoid physical confrontation unless absolutely necessary. One scenario depicted a person in a mental health crisis, threatening self-harm. Officers were given the opportunity to analyze the situation and use soft skills to mitigate any rash decisions from the involved parties, preparing them to respond more accordingly when a similar scenario happens in real life.

Soft skills are often overlooked in career planning as well. Sandwell College, located in England, is among the first of higher education systems to acknowledge the significant absence of curriculum to train and develop the intangibles. Ben Haddock, Emerging Technologies Demonstrator, mentions: “There are a lot of things students aren’t taught about at school. Things like posture, body language, and eye contact. Employers expect work-ready job candidates and there is mounting pressure on institutions to make social skills training part of the curriculum.” The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it does exist. Thus, the University has implemented VR technology that allows their students to record mock interviews, then switch avatars to analyze the behavior and composure that they need to improve upon. Students can become aware of their nervous ticks and shortcomings, then find ways to avoid them in future interviews. Bridgette Bennett, Head of the Professions and Innovations Academy at Sandwell, remarks: “We’re seeing confident students now going off to interviews and getting the jobs.” This comes as no surprise, considering that 84% of students reported higher confidence levels when going into ‘real life’ interviews. The trick is to observe yourself – a simple concept that would be difficult without the help of virtual reality.

Social Work is another great use case for virtual reality and one that has been recently piloted at Michigan State University. Because of the different environmental variations, trainees can experience important simulations that would otherwise be difficult to recreate – walking through a neighborhood, approaching and entering a home, and interviewing a family member. If students are able to prepare for tough situations before they enter the field, they’ll be much more equipped for the real thing. By having the opportunity to re-watch these encounters, students will also notice their mistakes or unconscious bias, making it easier to correct in future simulations. Social work is a stressful, emotionally taxing profession, but by using experiential learning tools such as VR, trainees can experience these challenges and not have to worry about making a mistake or saying the wrong thing. The beauty of VR is that you can repeatedly immerse yourself in an environment until you perfect your response.

There are various methods and approaches for soft skills training in VR. Fully immersive 360 video scenarios from different view points and role play through avatars are two powerful tools but the real power comes from the imagination of instructional designers and educators who employ these tools to make a difference in the real world.

Foretell Reality is a VR platform for soft skills development. We work with educators, coaches, and instructional designers to continuously develop tools and features that support various curriculum and teaching approaches.

Industry News, Soft Skills, Therapy and Support

More Than Meets the Eye: Meta’s Haptic Glove

Virtual reality has traditionally been viewed as a technology that allows users to immerse themselves in computer-generated environments, giving them the opportunity to experience a vast number of scenarios and surroundings. Until recently, VR software only offered the ability to stimulate two senses: sight and sound. Various attachments have attempted to close this gap between fiction and reality by adding a smell or taste component, but the one sense that hasn’t been properly addressed, and is perhaps the most vital to addressing this gap, is touch. Enter: Meta’s haptic glove.

The haptic glove prototype offers the sensation of touching or holding objects in virtual reality. This is achieved with the help of hundreds of actuators – small inflatable motors that mimic the feeling of pressure. Meta is working to improve the functionality of this feature by enabling the glove to detect exactly where you are in a virtual field, how close you are in proximity to an object, as well as the physical properties of various objects. Meta Research Director Sean Keller believes in the large impact this will have: “We use our hands to communicate with others, to learn about the world, and to take action within it. We can take advantage of a lifetime of motor learning if we can bring full hand presence into AR and VR. People could touch, feel, and manipulate virtual objects just like real objects — all without having to learn a new way of interacting with the world.” 

Don’t get too excited though – this glove is years from being market ready. RL Research Process Engineer, Katherine Healy, addresses the manufacturing difficulties Meta is facing, considering the gloves are being individually assembled by skilled engineers. “We use semi-automated processes where we can, but manufacturing these gloves at scale will require the invention of new manufacturing processes,” Healy mentions. Despite these setbacks, VR technology is predicted to become widely accessible in coming years.

Haptic technology isn’t necessarily new to the market, it just hasn’t been widely available to the public, nor has it attracted the interest of people other than serious gamers or movie producers. It’s taken years for the public to welcome the idea that VR technology has more practical uses than just gaming or entertainment. 

Though initial applications may focus on gaming and hard skills training, areas like therapy and support, soft skills training, and real time collaboration will also benefit. With this glove, you’ll be able to realistically manipulate 3D product prototypes, shake hands while practicing mock job interviews, and make realistic, genuine connections with other people through the sensation of touch during therapy and support sessions. 

Foretell Reality is a social VR platform for therapy and support, soft skill training, and real time collaboration. We employ current technologies such as hand tracking and are constantly extending our capabilities to support the latest headsets and accessories. To learn more or schedule a demo, click here.

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