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virtual reality (VR) virtual embodiment
Collaboration, Soft Skills, Therapy and Support

Virtual Embodiment In VR Raises Questions

In its simplest form, Virtual embodiment is the perception of sensory feedback related to a person’s virtual, non-physical body, also known as an avatar, and the effect it has on the particular person behind the avatar. Virtual embodiment comes as an offshoot of the study of embodiment cognition, which is the idea that the mind and body are in unison, with the two working in harmony. Embodiment cognition research shows how the aspects of a person’s body seem to generate built-in tendencies in how that person views the world around them. Those aspects include motor functions, height, number of limbs, handedness, and the body’s interactions with the environment.

Given we cannot control many factors like our height or handedness, the most common way we seek to control our identity in the physical world is through clothing, accessories, make-up, tattoos, piercing, hair styles, hair coloring and now, masks. We display these attributes to show our personal style and to provide non-verbal clues about our personalities.  If we want to be seen as diplomatic and professional, chances are we wear business attire and keep ourselves well groomed. If we want to be viewed as someone who is bold and anti-establishment, we may choose ripped clothing and cyan colored hair. We rely on these outward signals, whether consciously or not, to frame interactions with other people before any words are spoken.

As our bodies and minds become more integrated with virtual mediums, the same avenues of expression we have in the physical world are finding their way into the digital world. From the more basic Bitmojis on Snapchat to full-fledged 3-D avatars in a Virtual Reality simulation, we continue to seek ways to express and represent ourselves in order to provide non-verbal clues as to who we are underneath.  The difference with virtual embodiment, however, is that the only limitations to creating an outward identity is the level of customization afforded by a particular platform. Skin color, gender, height, facial features, number of limbs – all potentially alterable within minutes. Staying within our own species is not even a requirement in some cases.

No where is virtual embodiment taking on more meaning than in Virtual Reality (VR) where interactions between avatars are convincingly lifelike and the range of customization options is broader than any other digital medium. Take entertainment-based social environments like Rec Room, AltSpace or Facebook’s Horizon. Many people in these worlds engage and interact purely through virtual identities without ever knowing what someone looks like in real life.

While this level of anonymity and freedom of identity is fine in that context, those same attributes do not necessarily lend themselves to a business or professional environment. With VR being used more and more for corporate collaboration, mental and physical healthcare, and training and education, the role of the avatar brings up more nuanced questions around virtual embodiment that need to be thought through. 

For example, in the case of a pitch meeting held in VR, is there a responsibility for both parties to represent themselves as close to who they are in the real world as possible? Since pitching is partially about the person or people behind the product or service, an argument can be made that they should not appear younger, a different ethnicity, or a different gender than they are in real life. Or maybe that actually shouldn’t matter at all and non-realistic should be encouraged in order to weed out implicit bias in the process.

Therapy sessions also produce an interesting use case. It may be that the therapist should adhere closely to his or her real world identity whereas the patient may benefit from a virtual embodiment that they feel expresses themselves better. The very act of customizing one’s virtual appearance to better represent how one would like to be seen can be a part of the therapeutic process itself. Or maybe there is a benefit in the therapist playing a particular role or roles throughout the therapeutic process in order to elicit responses from the patient.

Foretell Reality recognizes the importance of virtual embodiment, particularly in professional settings. Through our work with partners like Yale School of Medicine, Fordham University, and XRHealth, we see firsthand the importance and promise of virtual embodiment in VR to redefine digital identity as a whole.  Toward that end, we recently expanded our avatar selection tool to include many more customization options.

virtual reality (VR) dating
Soft Skills

Dating in VR

Due to stay at home orders and rules of social distancing, it is becoming harder to go on spontaneous first-dates at restaurants, bars, or just out in public. Just in time to solve this issue, Virtual Reality (VR) offers a technological alternative to dating apps that actually allows people to “go” on dates by interacting in shared settings through lifelike avatars.

Additionally, the anonymity provided by an avatar allows the ability to be more open and exploratory during an initial date or dates prior to revealing ones actual identity. And activities like playing games together in VR can break the ice and create a stronger connection.

And once a relationship matures in VR, some people may even choose to tie the knot. For example, a couple recently  married in VR surrounded by remote guests all wearing appropriate wedding attire and surrounded by a beautiful virtual world. 

VR further proves its versatility and value in not only serving as a medium for which people can go on dates and even get married, but as a technology that offers programs that help people become more socially competent and comfortable when it comes to dating.

Through avatars and realistic scenarios, VR has the potential to offer people the ability to engage in  date coaching to prepare for actual physical encounters once the pandemic subsides.Whereas people may be afraid to reach out and take action to become more social because of the lack of confidence, embodying a virtual body, whether anonymously or not, can allow people to build up their dating skills without the typical fears and self-consciousness that may be associated with this kind of self-improvement. 

VR has the ability to impact behavioral health not just in the dating realm, but in terms of one’s overall mental health. Yes you can help change behavior by helping someone overcome the nerves of asking someone on a first date, but behavioral health offers more generalized anxiety treatments as well. For example, VR therapy in VR is being used to treat anxiety disorders and is becoming especially relevant during the pandemic to help with feelings of isolation. A recent article in Frontiers in Psychiatry states that “VR exposure therapy (VRET) permits individualized, gradual, controlled, immersive exposure that is easy for therapists to implement and often more acceptable to patients…” From teaching and making people more comfortable with dating and socialization skills to helping patients mental health issues, VR is developing programs that directly deal with the issues challenging social and anxiety issues.

Foretell Reality works with a variety of individuals, institutions and organizations to develop specialized VR programs for a variety of behavioral health applications. We are always exploring new use cases and ways in which this powerful medium can help humans better communicate both remotely and when together in the same space.

Soft Skills

5 Misconceptions of VR

1. VR Headsets are Uncomfortable

One common misconception is that the VR headset itself is uncomfortable to wear. writes about how, for many users, these headsets are quite comfortable to wear and are constantly being modified for better fit. They are also super easy to adjust exactly to your face! The newest headset from Oculus for example weighs under 18 ounces and has an optional head strap for a more comfortable fit.

2. VR Discourages Physical Activity also writes how some think that immersive tech like VR discourages people from physical activity. A lot of the time, VR actually helps people get active and there are even games to do this as well. With a portable VR headset, you can even walk around instead of simply sitting in front of a laptop. Examples of VR fitness games including classics like Beat Saber as well as multiple boxing titles.

3. VR is Only for Gamers and highlight the misconception that VR is really only for gamers. For example, Foretell Reality demonstrates VR’s use for therapy and support, soft skills development, and business collaboration. Other Glimpse Group subsidiaries utilize VR as well. Pagoni VR uses VR technology to combine physical and virtual worlds and create video workflows, D6 VR uses virtual tools to take data analysis, data visualization, remote work, and collaboration to a whole new level, and the list goes on!

4. VR is Isolating

Another looming misconception that VR isolates you from other people. If anything, VR puts you in connection with even more people than you previously had access to. During a pandemic this is incredibly relevant and in the workplace it can be used to virtually interact with people without any chance of exposure. For example, Facebook, maker of the most popular VR headset available, is currently in Beta with Horizon which it describes as a “social experience where you can explore, play, and create in extraordinary ways.”

5. VR Will Make you Nauseous

With most new headsets offering 6 versus 3 degrees of freedom as well as evolving design practices, it is much less common for this to occur. VR games and applications are used by a wide range of audiences from as young as 12 years old to seniors, 100’s of whom have been using therapeutic applications without who reporting any feelings of nausea.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

Other, Soft Skills

Recruitment and Hiring Through Virtual Reality (VR)

Online interviews are now the standard for job hiring. They are of course, not without their own challenges. From technical glitches, lack of body language cues, difficulty maintaining eye contact, and judgements on camera position and background, online video interviews can be uncomfortable and challenging.

One way to improve this experience would be to shift it to Virtual Reality (VR). VR touts many benefits from enhancing eye contact and body language to allowing both parties to grasp the context of questions and fit better. An interview is an opportunity for both the interviewer and interviewee to learn more about one another. A prospective employee can tour the office workspace virtually and view the company culture firsthand.

VR allows the candidate to interact with virtual team members in an immersive environment, perhaps even working through simulations to demonstrate their expertise. VR also masks the physical appearance of a candidate, removing stigma and bias from the interview process and also relieving a source of stress for the candidate who now does not have to concentrate on their appearance or physical location. VR also allows for all participants to be better focused and attentive.

Though video and audio may be the standard at the moment for interviewing, forward thinking companies should consider VR which promises a much more immersive, unbiased, and lifelike alternative to find the best candidates.

virtual reality (VR) soft skills
Soft Skills

Four Ways VR Elevates Soft Skills Training

A recent LinkedIn survey revealed that 92% of talent professionals reported that soft skills are equal or more important in the hiring process than hard skills and 89% say that bad hires typically lack soft versus hard skill requirements.

While may seem counterintuitive, VR provides unprecedented means to replicate and practice real world social experiences, and advance soft skills:

1. Comfort in Anonymity. Improving soft skills requires playing out different roles and scenarios. This can be intimidating for those who don’t feel comfortable ‘acting’ or ‘pretending.’ With VR, identity and voice are fully anonymized freeing participants to focus on the ‘real’ situations they find themselves within VR.

2. Breaking Down Walls. Detailed and authentic environments provide a level of immersion that is hard to replicate within a traditional physical space. The feeling of having already experienced something results in greater confidence and familiarity when entering into actual situations.

3. The Immediacy of Empathy. Empathy is one of the fundamental soft skills to learn but also one of the most difficult to teach. With VR, roles can quickly be reversed creating an immersive change in point of view instantly. A doctor can immediately become a patient and vice versa. This allows participants to focus on visceral feelings instead of intellectual reactions.

4. The Man and the Machine. For VR soft skills training, AI provides an always on partner, ready to practice scenarios that require repetition. This is incredibly valuable but even more so when more people get involved. Feedback and encouragement provided by human participants that join AI role players provides the best of both worlds. AI provides a constant to evaluate and measure progress while humans provide motivation and direction (also soft skills).

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

Soft Skills

Foretell & Fordham Partner to Teach Professional Skills

Soft skills are a critical part of job performance, but they can be hard to practice and learn.

Participating in role play exercises improves soft skills, but making role play convincing, effective, and accessible for those not comfortable with acting and improvisation can be difficult.

In response to this challenge, Fordham University turned to Foretell Reality to help their business students learn key professional skills by acting out real world scenarios in virtual environments. With new names, genders, appearances, and voices, students are immersed in simulations designed to improve skills like negotiation and networking.

“Your brain actually assumes you’ve experienced the simulated environment, and it brings educational concepts to life for students,” explains. “When they leave class, they don’t say, ‘We learned about negotiating today’; they say, ‘I negotiated today,’ or, ‘I led a business meeting today.’ explained Lyron Bentovim, CEO of Glimpse Group of which Foretell Reality is a subsidiary.

With more and more businesses seeing tangible ROI from VR training, higher education is now benefiting from the same virtual technologies to prepare their students for the ‘real world,’ in whatever format it appears.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

virtual reality (VR) soft skills
Soft Skills

Business Students Sharpen Soft Skills in VR

As part of an ‘Exploring Entrepreneurship’ class, business school students at Fordham University in New York are engaging in social VR simulations designed to improve their soft skills aptitude by focusing on areas like negotiation, public speaking, confidence, and active listening.

In a recent Washington Post article highlighting the partnership, Lyron Bentovim, Chief Executive of the Glimpse Group which is Foretell’s parent company, commented: “Your brain actually assumes you’ve experienced the simulated environment, and it brings educational concepts to life for students. When they leave class, they don’t say, ‘We learned about negotiating today’; they say, ‘I negotiated today,’ or, ‘I led a business meeting today.’

As anonymous avatars, students can change their appearance and alter their voice to take on any role in a given scenario. And while those in VR are immersed in highly life-like experiences, their colleagues without headsets can learn from viewing the action on any monitor while also providing feedback in real time.

Foretell Reality worked closely with Fordham to develop learning environments that replicated real world scenarios students would face after graduation. Students wore Oculus stand-alone headsets which allowed them to move comfortably, further creating a sense of immersion.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

virtual reality (VR) soft skills
Soft Skills

Foretell Reality for Soft Skills Development

The Current State of Soft Skills

Every year, people spend more and more time staring at screens. On average, Americans now allocate an average of six hours each day to screen time, more than double the amount of time spent 10 years ago. How does this affect soft skills such as empathy, teamwork, negotiation, listening, and public speaking? In at least two important ways:

First, more time on screens means less time spent with others in person. In particular, it means less time spent with people who are not already friends, colleagues, or family members. Being comfortable in unfamiliar social situations, whether for business or in personal life, is ultimately reliant on repeated exposure to unknown people in a variety of circumstances.

Second, communication through screens, whether text or video, follows its own set of norms and rules that do not necessarily prepare people for physical, in person communication. For example, gesturing, eye contact, tone of voice, and overall body language cannot be conveyed over audio, chat or email and are limited with video.

The move to screens is particularly affecting a younger generation that grew up with them from an early age. The Industry & Higher Education Journal recently highlighted the effects of the decline in social capital among college students. The study found that many students lack the “cultural and behavioural information and sensitivity they need to learn soft skills” and that this is caused by a “decrease in building social capital through face-to-face interaction, rather than due to colleges not preparing graduates for success in the business environment.”

Why does this matter to businesses?

According to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 soft skills aptitude is critical to employers. The vast majority, 92% of talent professionals, say that “soft skills are equally or more important to hire for than hard skills. And 89% said that when a new hire doesn’t work out, it’s because they lack critical soft skills.” Unfortunately another recent study found that 4 in 10 corporations and almost half of academic institutions believe that recent graduates lack critical “soft skills.”

Growing a business is a collaborative effort and effective collaboration requires strong interpersonal skills both internally and when working with clients or customers. Teaching soft skills to those entering the workforce and expanding and skills of existing employees remains a challenge as it requires people to coordinate a physical meeting location and also be comfortable envisioning imaginary scenarios and “acting out” different roles.

How can Foretell Reality help develop professional skills?

Foretell Reality is a virtual reality (VR) platform that fully immerses users in life-like 3D environments to communicate and collaborate with one another whether remotely or in person. Participants are placed in situations that feel real and simulate authentic human interactions, making learning tactile as well as auditory and visual.

In the case of soft skills training, Foretell Reality allows students and professionals to embody virtual identities in order to role play real life situations that improve skills such as public speaking, listening, empathy, negotiating, networking, and collaboration. Real time feedback, behavioral analytics, and the ability to repeat exercises over and over again all help participants navigate their own learning path.

Though it may not seem intuitive to use a digital platform to learn social skills, a study by researchers at Clemson University showed that virtual reality functions just as well as face to face tutorials for preparing students for public speaking presentations and may further develop students’ soft skills.

Soft Skills Development: Foretell Reality and Fordham University

Foretell Reality recently partnered with Fordham University to teach professional soft skills to groups of business students.

In one networking simulation, business students were assigned avatars that ranged in age, gender, and race. Students were challenged to overcome any implicit biases that could exist based on an avatar’s outward presence and instead focus on networking and listening to the technical skill set of each avatar.

In another exercise, students simulated negotiating during high stake business meetings while having their behavior broadcasted in real time before their class for critique.

Foretell Reality for Soft Skills Development

Foretell Reality offers multiple pre-built environments to practice soft skills including small and large board rooms, presentation halls, and open areas for networking. Each location can hold up to 30 remote teammates and an unlimited number of viewers who can watch the sessions from different perspectives.

Within environments, the platform provides tools that allow participants to practice skills like presenting, collaboration, pitching, and team building. These can range from white boards and sticky notes to pointers and private messaging.

The ability to embody a virtual avatar promotes empathy and also allows for anonymity. For example, a male can play the role of a female during a negotiation session or a manager can join a session as an employee without revealing his identity.

With more people spending time in front of screens and less time in person, developing soft skills is as or more critical to success as learning hard skills. Foretell Reality offers co-workers, students, and even strangers the opportunity to practice and improve professional soft skills remotely in life-like environments through realistic, customizable avatars.

Interested in learning more about Foretell Reality? Contact us or schedule a demo.

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