Amygdala — Life Science Databases(LSDB) CC-BY-SA-2.1-jp
What do Resident Evil, spider holding experience, roller-coasters, plank on top of the building, and war documentary have in common. All create discomfort. Remember psychology in high-school, Pavlov, and conditioned reflexes: dog hears a bell, gets a treat, and after a few repetitions, the dog starts salivating on the sound of bell. Sounds familiar?
VR is powerful medium to evoke emotions, and with great power comes great responsibility. If you care about future of VR medium, please think about what conditioned reflexes you are creating for your users? People are curious and even though they know the experience is not real, the Limbic response is real. If the person’s first three VR experiences were flooding their system with stress hormone, the 4th time you want to show them even something as enjoyable as Job Simulator they will already feel the anxiety and will not be as eager to try it. Users already have to endure motion sickness but the content does not have to be off-putting? The next time a user thinks about VR, their Amygdala will light up, adrenalin and cortisol flood their system, creating a conditioned reflex of feeling stress and anxiety.
Some researches show that many conditioned responses can be learned with a single trial, especially in fear conditioning and taste aversion learning. If you make a person uncomfortable enough before they have spent enough time in VR, you are ruining the medium for them.
Since VR is so immersive, doing that even once to someone will cause the Virtual Reality to become associated with discomfort.
So, if you care about this industry, please think about pleasant experiences. Leave the phobia treatment to the professionals. Don’t send people on their first vacation into a refugee camp, war zone, or in their own worst nightmares. News this year are already bad; what we need is a comfortable place to escape.