Leeds university warns of risks to children from VR

While the benefits of VR for the medical and therapeutic industries is being hotly touted, less attention has been given to the effects that immersive experiences could have on the development of children.

Researchers at the University of Leeds have conducted research that points to some potentially troubling conclusions. The team have issued a warning that they believe that continued use of VR headsets could trigger eyesight and balance problems in young children.

The study was performed on a group of children aged between 8 – 12, who were asked to play a VR game for 20 minutes. The children were then examined for signs of eyesight problems, nausea and other potential effects.

The results indicated that the experience had seemed to lead to a short-term disruption in stereo-acuity (the ability to perceive depth). At least one of the children involved in the study also had a brief case of dizziness/vertigo after participating.

Even though the effects were only short-lived, they were noticeable despite the relatively short playing time.  

What does this mean?

The problems of VR are well documented in adults. The issue comes from a 3D world being displayed on a 2D screen and the strain this places on the human visual system. In adults this can lead to the well-documented headache and sore eyes that VR use can cause. In children, however, the consequences are not very well documented.

The research was led by Faisal Mushtaq, who told the guardian:

“This study presents one of the first ever investigations into the impact of VR use on children’s vision and balance.

“Establishing the scientific evidence base on safe usage is important if we want to ensure that children benefit from all the exciting possibilities that VR has to offer.”

In a blog post, professor of Cognitive Psychology Mark Mon-Williams explained further:

“The problem with existing virtual environments is that the computer-generated images are shown on two dimensional screens, meaning that the eyes must stay focused in one location. However, the presentation of three dimensional binocular images forces the eyes to change direction as if they were gazing at a near or far object.

“This mismatch between the focusing and eye alignment systems creates surprise, and this places pressure on the human visual system to adapt to minimise this surprise.”

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