Virtual reality is really cool, isn’t it? You can put on a fancy helmet, be a superhero and go anywhere with one click. What’s not to love? But do you know that this comes with some significant risks and concerns?
No panic; We don’t want to tempt you to throw away your VR headset. We’re just uncovering some of the hidden dangers of virtual reality that could make it less fun. These are the potential health effects to consider when using VR.
1. Physical Health Risks of VR
According to a study by Frontiers in Neuroscience, prolonged use of wearable VR screens can lead to eyestrain and possible fatigue, headaches and blurred vision.
That’s not all; Motion sickness can occur when using VR, which may be due to your brain becoming confused by the discrepancy between what you see and feel. So if you’re moving in VR but standing still in real life, it can disrupt the balance system in your inner ear. This can cause nausea, dizziness and loss of balance and possibly cause you to hit objects and people, or fall and injure yourself.
Another physical health risk from VR is muscle strain. VR headsets are often heavy and can put pressure on the neck and spine. You can get shoulder problems, stiff joints – especially if you stay in uncomfortable positions for too long – or sustain injuries moving your arms and body in 3D space.
2. VR and social consequences
Humanity depends on how we thrive in our social interactions and communication. The virtual world can offer you extremely enticing adventures that may keep you stuck in the simulated environment for a long time. However, the intense immersion in VR can lead to self-isolation, making one prefer to be in the virtual world rather than the real world.
This isolation can affect your ability to interact socially and emotionally with real people. In extreme cases, face-to-face interactions in the real world can become a big deal as communication skills diminish over time and one tends to relate better to virtual avatars than humans.
Additionally, VR technology has the potential to encourage cyberbullying and crime. The level of anonymity afforded to users of the VR world gives bullies the power to do so without fear of repercussions. The immersive and heightened experience in the VR world also makes users feel more impulsive and feel capable of doing anything in the form of verbal and emotional abuse to others.
A bullied victim can descend into depression, sadness, and low self-esteem. Unfortunately, the perpetrators will likely get away with it, as there are no criminal laws in the virtual world. While VR provides some escape and thrilling experience for most people, some users harbor ill intentions toward others.
3. Psychological effects of VR
The Uncanny Valley Effect is the unsettling and eerie feeling one gets from observing human-like virtual characters. Virtual reality technology amplifies this effect, which can lead to undue anxiety and discomfort.
VR technology also enhances the experience of scary or violent content such as horror scenes and rides that induce fear and anxiety. The intense sensory overload caused by exciting scenes and the feeling of being transported into a virtual universe can be restless and even trigger panic attacks in some users.
In the meantime, you could lose touch with yourself and the physical world after spending too much time in virtual reality. This can lead to confusion and emotional distress. Also, you should consider staying away from virtual reality if you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The realistic and immersive experience in the virtual world can trigger past trauma or traumatize you again. The heightened senses of VR activity can cause your brain to produce more adrenaline and trigger a fight-or-flight response. These situations can lead to psychological stress and emotional distress.
Some people use VR technology for therapy to face their fears and phobias. VR can help you overcome your fears in a simulated and controlled environment tailored to your phobia. However, without proper guidance, this type of exposure can cause anxiety and reactions in people with PTSD. Even in the therapeutic setting, you will still experience increased anxiety and physiological responses such as increased heart rate and overstimulation.
Another significant negative effect of wearable headsets is that VR technology can be addictive, especially for those with a history of addiction. The desire to escape from reality and the fascinating nature of the virtual world can lead to a compulsive use of VR. A VR addiction can impact your work life, your relationship, and your mental and physical health.
4. Safety and Ethical Risks of VR
As virtual reality technology grows in popularity, it becomes more and more attractive for criminals to illegally profit from it. VR devices tend to collect and store user information and data. If this data is not properly processed or secured, it can fall into the hands of unauthorized persons. VR platforms are also very vulnerable to the occasional bugs and vulnerabilities of outdated software, leading to an increased risk of cyber attacks and threats.
Because VR environments also encourage user-generated content and interactions between avatars, they are breeding grounds for social engineering attacks – psychological manipulations and tricks used to collect user-sensitive data. Criminals in the virtual world can take advantage of other users by gaining their trust and stealing their personal information for abuse.
Additionally, virtual reality lacks an overall privacy control system to manage sensitive user information. The applications and platforms that collect data often use different protocols for security and privacy. This disparity leads to inconsistencies in protecting and managing user privacy.
Some VR headsets can even collect biometric data, revealing your identity, health, emotions, preferences and personality. This data is useful for personalization, advertising, research or diagnostics. However, if this data gets into the hands of unauthorized persons without your consent or knowledge, they can misuse it.
Virtual reality isn’t just fun
Undoubtedly, virtual reality is fun and an immersive way to escape from reality. But it also comes with risks and consequences. Before you put on the VR headset, stop and think about everything we pointed out.
Does VR help you be more productive and improve your entertainment experience? Or would you rather enjoy the real world with all its beauty and challenges? There really is no substitute for reality.