Proc. VR/AR in Higher Education Conference 2018, pp. 93–99 (2019)
Virtual Reality (VR) offers exciting new opportunities for teaching psychology, such as the chance to explore questions, phenomena, perspectives and experiences it would be difficult or impossible to observe in the real world or classroom. As VR technology develops, its potential to provide a multi-modal sensory experience may lead to even more immersive environments. With these exciting opportunities, however, come new ethical dilemmas and risks for teachers and students utilising this technology. Many users and manufacturers of VR acknowledge the physiological and psychological impacts of the use of VR (e.g. Sharples, Cobb, Moody, & Wilson, 2008). One of the most commonly reported effects is motion-sickness, however, improvements in technology may help to lessen these. An increasing number of studies are now revealing potential psychological impacts, for example, Aimé, Cotton, and Bouchard (2009) found females reporting increased body dissatisfaction after immersive VR use, and Aardema, O’Connor, Côté and Taillon (2010) found users reporting greater sense of dissociation and lower sense of ’presence’ in objective reality. As yet, however, the British Psychological Society (BPS), the professional body for the discipline of psychology, has provided no specific ethical guidelines for the use of VR or Augmented Reality (AR) in research with human participants or in an educational setting.
Our behaviour is influenced by our environment and VR can place students in highly unusual, disorientating environments which can at times create sensations akin to experiences with hallucinogens; these impacts should not be taken lightly, even within informal teaching settings. We aim to address this need within psychology research and teaching, by discussing some potential risks and ethical considerations for educators wishing to use VR in educational settings, including: cybersickness, consensual hallucinations; pressure to conform and power of authority, individual differences in response to VR, and the need for pre and post-use care. Some practical recommendations are presented which also encompass our findings that some pre-use screening tools are insufficient to capture a participant’s actual experience and, in some individuals, can prematurely discourage VR usage when in actuality their experience is unexpectedly positive.
“How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?”
Plato— The Allegory of the Cave — The Republic (Book VII)
Keywords: Ethics; Psychology; Teaching; Virtual Reality; Cybersickness; Immersion
Publication: 30 May 2019
© 2019 The Authors
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY Licence.