A recent study by Facebook IQ, in which people completed one-on-one conversations in VR, concluded that most people respond positively, and introverts in particular feel more comfortable. Facebook IQ is a team established to assist marketers in understanding the way people communicate online and offline.

Facebook has been exploring the potential of social VR since their famous acquisition of Oculus VR in 2014. More recently, they detailed the results of their social VR avatar experiments and are planning to launch a ‘social VR app’ very soon. A different social experiment was recently completed by Facebook IQ, an internal team who help businesses understand communication trends and advertising effectiveness – asking 60 people to have a one-on-one conversation, half of them being in person, and half being in a VR environment wearing the Oculus Rift.

Interestingly, they didn’t use the VR avatars seen in Facebook’s own demonstrations, nor did they use the Oculus avatars found in the Rift’s menus – instead they used vTime, a popular ‘sociable network’ app available for Rift, Gear VR, Cardboard and Daydream. vTime uses its own full-body avatar system, complete with automatically-animating hands – surprising that these would be used in such an experiment. However, it seems like the main reason for choosing the software was to use its comfortable ‘train cabin’ environment – a familiar and natural place to converse with a stranger – and the focus of the experiment was about vocal communication.

facebook-vrApplied neuroscience company Neurons Inc was commissioned to assist with the study of cognitive and emotional responses; all participants wore high resolution electroencephalography (EEG) scanners, used to record electrical activity in the brain, and eye trackers. With half the group conducting a normal one-to-one conversation in person, and the other half engaged in vTime, Neurons Inc was able to compare the level of comfort and engagement of a VR conversation compared to a conventional one. The eye trackers helped to determine the user’s level of attention, and the EEG scanners were used to assess motivation and cognitive load, based on the level of brain activity. If the load is too low, it means the person is bored; too high and they’re stressed.

According to the report published on Facebook Insights, the participants, who had mostly never tried VR before, were within the ‘optimal range of cognitive effort’, being neither bored nor overstimulated. The cognitive load decreased over time, meaning that people naturally became more comfortable as the conversation progressed. In the interviews that followed, 93% said that they liked their virtual conversation partner, and those who were identified as more introverted responded ‘particularly positively’, being more engaged by meeting in VR than by meeting in person.

Facebook Plans to Launch Social VR App "As Soon As Possible"

This increased confidence and reduced self-consciousness in introverts raises an interesting question about the current effectiveness of VR: did this occur because VR is already powerful, or not powerful enough? It seems that the main reason why introverts are less intimidated in VR is because it doesn’t feel as real as meeting someone face to face, and yet the entire industry is working towards making the experience as real as possible. What will happen when social VR reaches a level of fidelity that is much closer to meeting in person; are introverts only more engaged because of VR’s current limitations, or is there something unique to VR that introverts will remain attracted to, no matter how realistic it becomes?

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The trial version of Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness probably had something to do with it. And certainly the original Super Mario Kart and Gran Turismo. A car nut from an early age, Dominic was always drawn to racing games above all other genres. Now a seasoned driving simulation enthusiast, and former editor of Sim Racer magazine, Dominic has followed virtual reality developments with keen interest, as cockpit-based simulation is a perfect match for the technology. Conditions could hardly be more ideal, a scientist once said. Writing about simulators lead him to Road to VR, whose broad coverage of the industry revealed the bigger picture and limitless potential of the medium. Passionate about technology and a lifelong PC gamer, Dominic suffers from the ‘tweak for days’ PC gaming condition, where he plays the same section over and over at every possible combination of visual settings to find the right balance between fidelity and performance. Based within The Fens of Lincolnshire (it’s very flat), Dominic can sometimes be found marvelling at the real world’s ‘draw distance’, wishing virtual technologies would catch up.
  • OgreTactics

    I’m never ever trusting Facebook with anything. This is one of the worst thing that has happened to society beside the economical crisis…

    • ShiftyInc

      Grab a tinfoil hat while you are at it.

      • OgreTactics

        You have a south-park avatar generator, and it’s seems to suggest you have spiked hair, a red tie and pant, with square glasses. So your comment is meaningless.

  • sntxrrr

    “What will happen when social VR reaches a level of fidelity…” On a long enough time scale these interactions will be (close to) indistinguishable from reality so any real life anxiety will be there too.
    But a synthetic environment does offer some possible options to people with social anxieties, phobias or handicap. Being able to blend in ones familiar physical surroundings can ease stress. If someone is uncomfortable surrounded by relative strangers it might be helpful to change their rendering to less threatening cartoon-like representations. If the problem is self-image related one could control or change ones appearance to others to hide behind.

  • Damien Wilson

    I’m sick of hearing Facebook talk about social VR… when the hell is their social VR app releasing? We’ve been waiting since October with not one detail about its release.

  • Mario-Galouzeau de Bocsa

    Being introvert isn’t being shy. And I guess they felt more confortable because it’s a conversation without strings or consequences. Like having a chat with a stranger can be easier than with your neighbour ( “what if he thinks I’m stupid ?”).

  • DaKangaroo

    News Flash: People who hate other people and don’t like meeting people, and often feel self conscious & uncomfortable in social situations, are more comfortable meeting people in an environment where they’re on the opposite side of the planet from the strangers they meet, basically wearing a paper bag over their head and can switch off the experience in a few seconds if they want, and never have to encounter the people they were meeting again!

    .. actually as an introvert too, yes, that does really sound appealing.

  • crim3

    I still haven’t used the mic of my headset. I wonder if I’ll ever dare.

  • ummm…

    anecdotally, i am a serious gamer – yet dont like multiplayer modes. In VR i love them. It is so natural and the games so immersive that I have come to enjoy multiplayer/coop experiences.