VR has negative side effects

Health risks from VR?

Have you often dreamed of seeing the world from the perspective of a flying bird? With virtual reality equipment, ascent into the skies is no longer a problem today.
In the next few years, according to forecasts, virtual reality technology (VR technology) will conquer the mass market and move into our households. But many people are already enjoying the entertainment value of VR games. And the Austrian adult education centers and universities are already promoting the special quality of VR for training purposes.
But skeptical voices are also spreading and in addition to the positive effects of the new technology, risks for physical and mental health are also recognized. But what is exaggerated scare tactics and what should VR users really take into account? As with every new product in the technology sector, untruths or exaggerated warnings are published. Manufacturers of VR hardware and software also prefer to take the cautious route for safety reasons and dramatize the possible side effects of using VR. However, this measure could have the negative effect of reducing and discontinuing research in VR technology, which would be counterproductive for its future-oriented potential.

Since the use of VR is still young, there are currently no reliable long-term evaluations of physical and psychological consequential damage that can be used. Temporary side effects are currently known, such as motion sickness, which is similar in its symptoms to seasickness and occurs in some people when using VR.

In order to get as objective a picture as possible of the health risks, it is worth considering not only the recommendations from the technology industry but also the feedback from specialist circles in medicine, psychology and social science.

Enjoy the virtual experience safely and at short intervals

What you have to pay attention to in any case, as soon as you put on the VR glasses, is to avoid tripping hazards. It is best to sit comfortably on a couch when entering the virtual room and make sure that any roommates are informed and that pets do not disturb them during the session.
Entering the virtual world can change the sense of balance and the associated spatial perception, which is why, as already mentioned, the sitting position should be preferred. If you notice any discomfort, you should not hesitate to take off your glasses and interrupt the session. The aforementioned motion sickness could make itself felt. Manufacturers are currently working on optimizing the hardware and software components in such a way that motion sickness effects are reduced. As a novelty in the hardware range, a so-called pass-through feature is already offered with some VR glasses, for example, which allows the user to look through the glasses into the real environment if necessary.
It is just as important to only treat yourself to the VR session in an alcohol- and drug-free state. Because the change in perception caused by VR could increase even further into undreamt-of dimensions due to the spatial perception that has already been impaired by the consumption of addictive substances and result in unpleasant side effects both physically and psychologically.

Watch out for your eyes

Especially for the first VR visits, it is best to plan only short units of a few minutes. Numerous manufacturers generally recommend setting the period of use between 30 and 50 minutes and then taking a break of at least 15 minutes. This recommended break is approximately the same as the requirements for working on a personal computer.

Ophthalmologists have concerns with regard to virtual reality because the perceived image must take place in the immediate vicinity of the eye through an unnatural, inwardly turned eye position similar to the squint effect, so that the desired stereoscopic 3D effect occurs. The so-called vergence accommodation conflict then occurs. Frequent VR enjoyment could also cause myopia to develop. Research is currently being carried out into the potential impacts mentioned.

However, the damaging effect on children's eyes can already be diagnosed as safe. The child's eye, which is still developing, is at risk of developing myopia when using VR. Therefore, children under the age of 12 should not be allowed to use VR.

The introduction of the Fresnel lens, which, as a novelty in the VR sector, enables expanded spatial perception with a wider and borderless field of view and thus further increases the immersive experience, is also not classified as harmless in optometry. Incidentally, what is hardly thought of when several users use the same VR glasses is the risk of conjunctivitis being transmitted if the glasses are not cleaned after use. Therefore, you should pay attention to the hygienic handling of your VR equipment.

Ergonomic recommendations

So that you can enjoy the use of your VR session without any physical side effects, you should ensure that the VR glasses or the headset are in a comfortable position. For optimal image perception, the individual interpupillary distance must be set in the hardware.
On the manufacturer side, the producers are required to design the equipment ergonomically so that it does not cause any unnatural head or neck movements. The software ergonomics, for example, when selecting the numbers and colors to be displayed, must be aligned in such a way that the eye is not too irritated by them.

Finally, for a safe use of VR, it can be advised, in addition to observing the manufacturer's recommendations, to pay particular attention to individual perception and to stop using VR if you feel unwell.

The field of research into the mental consequences of VR enjoyment is more difficult than the determination of the physical impairments and, due to its far-reaching potential effects, will still take a long time to research. For the time being, assumptions can primarily be made in this sector, but no reliable results.

Increased presence in virtual space makes returning to reality difficult

Anyone who has already used VR and has enjoyed it knows the fascinating experience of being in a fantasy room and possibly even being able to move around it. You are integrated into a new space, which in reality does not exist. If you have to recognize this volatility when taking off the glasses, a depressive mood can set in, which is dubbed post-VR sadness in specialist circles.

Likewise, some VR users report that after prolonged use of VR they have to struggle with changes in perception in the real environment and that their relationship with their fellow human beings even feels irritating.

Caution, addictive

To travel to a distant country that you cannot really afford to visit, or to be part of an archaeological project to which you never really have access - all these temptations sound very seductive. For certain user groups, however, these excursions into better worlds could also harbor addiction potential. Especially people with poor real living conditions or people with social difficulties could succumb to the seductive escape into the virtual world.

VR games are often stigmatized as promoting violence

VR games could lead to increased violence and the development of traumas. This stigma has been afflicted with many games for everyone, especially when it comes to horror VR games. The immersive effect of being involved in the scenario makes psychologists skeptical about the psychological effects on people. However, it cannot yet be confirmed whether long-term consequences are to be feared.

A complete novelty in VR development could, for example, be the creation of unrealistic and thus unique, completely unlimited VR space experiences. In the ethical sector, for example, a meeting with people without differences in their national and social origin could be designed in the virtual space.

On the other hand, some ethical values ​​could be called into question in the future and have dubious effects on our social structure, says Dr. Jonathan Harth from the University of Witten / Herdecke / D, who, together with his students, has set himself the task of carefully examining the VR market with regard to its social science effects and future opportunities.

The constant developments in the VR area will also make it possible in the future to be able to find oneself represented together with one's fellow human beings in the VR room one day. Developments in dealing with one's fellow human beings as well as with people who have already died could assume undreamt-of excesses that are ethically unjustifiable.

He sees great future potential for VR in the education, health and therapy sectors, where it is already being used today.

Since the use of VR is still young, there are currently no reliable long-term evaluations of physical and psychological consequential damage.
Temporary side effects are known, such as motion sickness, the symptoms of which are similar to seasickness. We are working on optimizing the hardware and software components to reduce these possible side effects.
Due to the potential risk of vergence-accommodation conflict when using VR, children under the age of 12 should not be admitted to avoid permanent eye damage.

For certain user groups, these excursions into better worlds could be addictive. An increased propensity for violence and the emergence of trauma when consuming VR games as a consequence is examined. As a complete novelty in VR development, the creation of unrealistic and therefore unique, completely unlimited VR room experiences is expected. Sociologists also fear that ethical values ​​will be called into question. The future potential of VR is expected above all in the education, health and therapy sectors.