Is there anything immersive technology can’t do?
Love conquers all, right? That’s true for most. However, in today’s complex society, it can be hard for some people to maintain a monogamous relationship. A harsh reality indeed, but it’s true. So true that Doron Friedman, a professor at the Sammy Ofer School, and Gurit Birnbaum, a psychology professor at Reichman University, worked together to explore the possibility of using VR to help people in monogamous relationships resist the temptation to cheat.
Joining Friedman and Birn as part of the research were Yael R. Chen, Kobi Zholtack, and Jonathan Giron.
According to the research team, the concept of inoculation refers to the idea that exposure to a weakened threat can increase one’s self-control. For instance, if you decide to restrict your food intake to lose weight, a certain encounter with an open bag of chips or freshly baked cookies can remind you of that desire.
The goal you set for yourself is designed to help you resist the temptations of finishing off that bag of chips or shoving two (or three) cookies into your mouth, which is not an easy task.
In three experiments, researchers tested the effects of varying levels of commitment using VR scenarios. Participants were asked to flirt with a virtual character in order to test the effects of a weakened threat on their relationships. Like the bag of chips or cookies, Friedman and Birn could see how this type of exposure can help people prepare for a more serious situation in their relationship.
They concluded that being exposed to a seductive character in VR can not only help people strengthen their relationships, but can also make them feel more attracted to their current partner.
For the experiments, researchers asked participants to enter a VR bar. Participants then had a conversation with a virtual bartender, who was the same gender as their respective partners. The researchers then split the virtual character into two groups: one that was in control and remained neutral and professional with participants and another who flirted with the participants.
Participants were then asked to rate their perceptions and feelings about the virtual characters. Afterward, these participants would then meet with an actual person who would then interview them.
In the first experiment, the interviewer conducted a survey to gather information about the participants’ attitudes toward various interpersonal issues, asking questions such as “Should people play ‘hard-to-get’ at the onset of a relationship?”
Interviewers were trained to convey interest and warmth to the participants. After completing the interview, they were asked to rate how sexually attractive they thought the interviewer was. The results of the experiment revealed that those who were exposed to the flirtatious virtual character were more likely to perceive the human interviewer as less attractive compared to those interacting with the neutral virtual bartender.
Researchers conducted another experiment to see if the participants would view a random person as less attractive after they interacted with the virtual character. They then introduced the participants to an attractive stranger. The goal of the experiment was to find a way to help participants express their interest in a potential partner without resorting to sexual innuendo.
For this experiment, participants were introduced to an attractive individual (collaborator) who was the same sex as their current real-life partner and then asked to complete a project together. For the experiment, the two individuals were asked to build five-story pyramids using plastic cups.
When the “collaborator” finished building the third floor of the pyramid, they would then purposely knock it over and make it look like an accident, saying: “Oh! I’m so clumsy! Could you please help me rebuild my pyramid?” Using a stopwatch hidden in their pocket, a research team member would then measure the amount of time the participants spent helping to rebuild the pyramid with the collaborator.
The results of the experiment revealed that the participants who had been exposed to the seductive virtual character spent less time helping the pyramid’s builder.
The third experiment involved two couples. The partners were separated into different rooms, where one of them interacted with a virtual character, while the other watched a video. After completing the virtual session, the couples were reunited and asked to talk about their sex lives. The participants then rated the extent of their sexual desire for both partners and other individuals.
The results of the study revealed that the individuals who had interacted with the seductive virtual character were more likely to have a stronger sexual desire than the individuals who had not.
According to Prof Gurit Birnbaum of Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology, “The findings of the three studies indicate that it is possible to inoculate people and make them more resistant to threats to their romantic relationship. This is the first study in the world to illustrate how a virtual reality interaction can improve real-world relationships.”
In the end, the research team concluded that the interactions with the virtual character could actually help people maintain a monogamous relationship with their partners. They also noted that these types of interactions could help prepare people for the challenges that they might encounter in the real world to “prepare ahead of time to deal more effectively with significant threats in the real world. In this way, virtual reality interactions may contribute to people’s ability to maintain stable and satisfying relationships with their actual partners.”
If you’d like to learn more about the study, you can read their findings here. Lastly, some word of advice for you, don’t compare your significant other to a bag of opened chips…
Feature Image Credit: Shutterstock, View Apart