New study finds: Virtual Reality messes with our sense of reality

New study finds: Virtual Reality messes with our sense of reality

A new study suggests that virtual reality has an influence on the perception of reality. However, there is no reason for concern.

I can still remember my first, longer gaming experience in virtual reality. When I took off the VR headset, it was reality that seemed unreal for a short time. It felt a bit like I was still under the VR headset, simulating the environment along with my body. An eerie feeling.

In VR forums, you read about similar experiences on the first or second VR trip. Could it be that the brain is forced to adjust its conception of reality when confronted with virtual reality and that this is the reason why such perceptual shifts occur?

In any case, I've never felt anything similar since that first experience, and I don't feel that virtual reality clouds my sense of reality in any other way. No matter how long I spend there. My brain has probably learned to distinguish between physical and digital reality and is no longer easily fooled.

A study wants to prove the VR effect

The fact that such reports of experiences keep cropping up has prompted a group of German researchers to investigate the phenomenon using scientific methods.

In psychology and psychiatry, the terms depersonalization (DP) and derealization (DR) are commonly used to describe the phenomenon. Derealization means that the environment seems strange and unreal, in depersonalization this feeling refers to the own person. These are two different phenomena, but they are closely related.

Carina Peckmann, Kyra Kannen, Max C. Pensel, Silke Lux, Alexandra Philipsen and Niclas Braun from the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital Bonn conducted a study to investigate whether virtual reality can induce such phenomena. The results were published in February in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Subjects played Skyrim VR

“Since VR is a technology that can strongly influence people’s experience of reality, at least during VR exposure, we wondered whether VR might also affect their experience of reality towards the ‘real world’ after VR exposure,” study leader Niclas Braun says.

For their randomized controlled longitudinal study, the researchers selected 80 participants without psychiatric or neurological disorders. 40 played the original 2D version of the role-playing game Skyrim on a monitor, 40 the more immersive VR port.

Using a standardized questionnaire, the so-called Cambridge Depersonalization Scale (CDS), the individual degree of depersonalization and derealization (DPDR level) was determined at four different time points: immediately before the gaming session, immediately after the gaming session, one day after the gaming session, and one week after the gaming session.


In addition to the questionnaire, the subjects underwent several other tests that examined emotional reactivity, degree of motion sickness, and perception of reality.

Temporary mild DPDR symptoms possible

The study found that both 2D and VR consumption temporarily produced mild DPDR symptoms, with VR use having a "significantly stronger" effect in this regard. The group was unable to measure longer-term shifts in the perception of reality in either case.

"In summary, our study gives further evidence for the induction of DPDR symptoms by VR techniques and is the first study to prove this finding in comparison with an adequate control group. However, in their intensity, the DPDR effects found do not seem clinically relevant and based on our data, no evidence for a DPDR long-term effect after single VR consumption can be provided."

In other words, the influence of VR on reality perception occurs only shortly after VR use and is so minor that it does not pose a risk.

VR influence: many questions remain unanswered

The study has several limitations that require further investigation. The researchers point out that the gaming sessions lasted only 30 minutes each and that only one game, Skyrim, was part of the study.

What if someone plays in VR for two, four, or eight hours at a time, every day for an extended period? And what effect do other, more realistic VR games have on perception of reality?

The group also studied only healthy subjects. How VR affects people with mental disorders or psychosis is not known. So many questions are still unanswered.

The study entitled Virtual reality induces symptoms of depersonalization and derealization: A longitudinal randomized control trial is available free of charge, so you can check it out yourself.

Sources: PsyPost