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Measuring the human body and brain’s response to real-world conditions and stimuli has long challenged researchers. This problem has usually been dealt with in one of two ways. The first approach is to take research participants into the field—not impossible with today’s mobile data recording technology but not always safe or convenient. The second option is to imitate real-world conditions in the lab using screens, audio equipment, and even scent delivery, but in the end, it is difficult to completely remove the lab setting from the participant’s experience—that is, until the introduction of Virtual Reality (VR) technology in research.

Just as it has revolutionized everything from entertainment to training, VR has provided researchers with the opportunity to create immersive experiences in the lab that mimic the real world. Advances in technology have not only made these simulated environments more realistic, but they have also made it easier to integrate a wide range of signals and stimulus delivery to enhance the recording of physiological and psychophysiological data.

BIOPAC, through cooperation with several partner companies, offers a range of data recording options that integrate seamlessly with third-party VR devices. fNIR Devices, for example, designs solutions for recording functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) signals that can easily be incorporated with standard VR head-mounted displays (HMD) to measure neural activity and hemodynamic response in the prefrontal cortex while participants experience VR environments. BIOPAC partner Seenel has created MedelOpt, a line of whole-head wearable devices that combine electroencephalography (EEG) and fNIRS, including a VR option that integrates an HMD. Finally, partner company WorldViz offers a full spectrum of VR solutions from complete VR kits to full-room Projection VR technology to software that can be combined with both wired and wireless data recording technologies to provide a complete array of bio-signal data, from eye tracking to electrodermal activity.

A Canadian study published in 2023 used a combination of BIOPAC and WorldViz products to investigate how sensory feedback and arousal influence neuromusVR Shadowcular control and posture. Researchers measured arousal via electrodermal activity (EDA) and psychosocial questionnaires, rating perceived fear and anxiety in both real-world situations in VR environments that simulated standing both at ground level and on a raised platform. Participants wore a commercial HMD running WorldViz’s Vizard VR toolkit software. Electrical nerve stimulation was provided via a BIOPAC linear isolated stimulator. The study found the “physiological and perceptual indicators of fear and anxiety increased” in the VR platform simulation, providing “novel evidence that VR can be used to modulate upright postural control.”

A similar study published in the 2022 issue of the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation examined the effect non-physical mental training has on balance skills. The study used fNIRS technology to measure hemodynamic response in the prefrontal cortex of participants experiencing virtual environments through VR HMDs. Participants were instructed to imagine themselves imitating balance exercises viewed through an Oculus VR HMD while also fitted with an fNIR Devices Imager headband. Data was gathered using Cobi Studio software and analyzed via fNIRSoft software. The study identified several advantages of virtual reality mental training (VRMT) over conventional mental training (CMT).

These are just a few examples of how VR technology can be integrated with a variety of methodologies for gathering research data. For additional information on the subject, check out our Virtual Reality Resources, which include an array of online training on integrating VR into research.

Are you planning a research product and need help integrating VR with other data acquisition and analysis equipment? Contact your local BIOPAC sales rep to find the right solutions for you.

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