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How Neuroplasticity Affects Perception and Performance

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Visual displays are bombarding us daily. On a drive down almost any road, there are billboards many of which are electronic. Computers are used in many jobs. Much of the population owns a smartphone. Televisions are blaring even in the gym. And the advent of virtual reality (VR) and virtual environments (VE) has added another visual display in both work and play. Our brains are constantly being bombarded by visual information. Therefore, vision is an important perception to consider when designing any system. One of the most crucial things to take into consideration now is VR. VR allows us to have new experiences; however, it also brings about a new twist on an old problem. This new twist is called cybersickness. Cybersickness is considered a type of motion sickness that happens when using VR.

First, we will look at visual displays and their general effect on cognition. Visual displays affect several aspects of cognition such as selection, organization, integration, and processing efficiency (Mccrudden & Rapp, 2015). Selection refers to selective attention and allows the user to hopefully concentrate on the important information; organization helps the user associate various concepts with each other and prior knowledge; integration complements organization by simultaneously activating prior knowledge and instructional message information, and processing efficiency determine how people manage to select important information more quickly (Mccrudden & Rapp, 2015). As a person less susceptible to motion sickness, I did have an experience with cybersickness. When using a headset VR system at the USS Arizona memorial in Hawaii, all these components were needed to concentrate on moving about the VE of the ship while ignoring the rest of the ship’s environment. After using the VR system, I noted some minor dizziness and nausea which did resolve itself with some time away from any visual displays.

Next, we will look at how VR and cybersickness can impact VR’s users. Cybersickness knew as simulator sickness has been studied extensively from a human factors point of view and has been a known issue for decades (Rebenitsch & Owen, 2016). It also is considered to be visually induced since there is no physical motion and includes several medical symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, and headache, among others (Rebenitsch & Owen, 2016). There are several theories for the potential cause of cybersickness. The most common theory is a sensory mismatch which says that what the person sees versus what the person feels causes cybersickness symptoms (Rebenitsch & Owen, 2016). To reduce cybersickness, several things need to be taken into consideration; narrowing the field of view, limiting the control of navigation, including the real world, and increasing tactile feedback decreases cybersickness while increasing navigational speed increased cybersickness (Rebenitsch & Owen, 2016). Munshi, Varghese, & Dhar-Munshi, (2017) also indicate that taking a break helps reduce similar cybersickness symptoms caused by extended computer use. In addition according to Sevinc & Berkman, (2020), cybersickness increased when VE navigation was based on head movements versus hand-controlled navigation with a stationary head position. We also must consider how hand-eye coordination is affected when using VR and in VE. According to Batmaz, Mathelin, & Dresp-Langley (2017), real-world movements and virtual hand or tool movements may not match each other. Batmaz, Mathelin, & Dresp-Langley (2017) also indicate that those with more training are better equipped to handle this mismatch than those who have not been trained. As robotic surgeries become more common, surgeons will be required to have even more extensive training to help reduce the mismatch between the real world and robotic movements.

Cybersickness is also believed to affect cognition as well (Mittelstaedt, Wacker, & Stelling, 2018). Mittelstaedt, Wacker, & Stelling, (2018) looked at cybersickness and its relationship to basic cognitive abilities such as reaction time and working memory. Reaction time is the time required to respond to any stimulus such as pressing a button after a light appears. Working memory is part of short-term memory and is used as a place to temporarily store information. It was discovered that reaction times increased after exposure to VR, but that cybersickness had very little influence on reaction times (Mittelstaedt, Wacker, & Stelling, 2018). It also appears that working memory was not affected during this particular study (Mittelstaedt, Wacker, & Stelling, 2018). Across several of the studies, it was also found that women are more likely to report symptoms earlier than men but that women also recover more quickly. Women and men may be affected differently by VR (Mittelstaedt, Wacker, & Stelling, 2018).

Overall, we must take into account how a person responds to the variables present in VR. We must particularly pay attention to vision both in what the person sees and what they feel regarding hand-eye coordination to decrease the mismatch of sensations. Vision is and will remain one of the most important factors when designing any system.

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