People wearing virtual reality headsets have worse balance and increased mental exertion

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New research published in PLOS One has found that virtual reality use impairs physical and cognitive performance while trying to balance.

“I became interested in this topic because virtual reality headsets have recently become widely available, with great potential to make rehabilitation more enjoyable and varied for patients,” said study author Steven M. Peterson of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

“While many studies have explored upper-limb activities, I wanted to understand how immersive and mentally challenging a virtual reality headset is when the user is walking around and not seated. We decided to test the realism of virtual reality by looking for stress at high heights because just the perception of heights can affect how people walk and how cautious they are.”

In the study, the researchers monitored measure physiological and cognitive activity of 19 volunteers as they walked across a 3.8 cm-wide wooden balance beam, which was 2.5 cm off the ground. The volunteers walked across in beam in three different conditions: without a VR headset, with a VR headset that reflected the actual height of the beam, and with a VR headset that made it appear the beam was 15 meters off the ground.

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