Skip to main content

What do VR and AR trigger in us psychologically?

More and more IT companies are offering some kind of virtual or augmented reality service, ranging from entertainment with virtual characters to conducting digital meetings and interactive product presentations online. A Study by researchers and scientists from the University of Stanford provides an insightful overview of how augmented reality can affect people's behavior - not only in the virtual world, but also in the real world. In this article, we want to explain in more detail what effects this has and what it means for digital marketing.


Virtual and augmented reality related to the nervous system

The psychological impact of VR and AR can have long-lasting effects on us as they tax our nervous system. Just like other real-world stimuli, when experiencing VR and AR applications, those stimuli trigger our primitive fight-or-flight response. Our brain behaves the same way towards immersive virtual experiences as it does towards real-life experiences. This can also alter perceptions of stimuli in the real physical environment.

As already mentioned in other articles, VR differs from AR in that it simulates a virtual environment through the use of special glasses. You are “transported” to another world, so to speak. AR, on the other hand, adds new objects and content to the existing environment, this can also be done through glasses, but more often through the display on mobile devices such as a smartphone camera. Many software companies are increasingly focusing on augmented reality technologies, as AR reaches a wider audience than VR due to its easy access.

The aforementioned Stanford study found that augmented reality experiences can continue to influence people's behavior and interactions with the environment even after they have been used. For example, during the research work, subjects stood in front of two chairs, one of which was occupied by a virtual avatar which they perceived through AR glasses. It was observed that even after removing the glasses, the chair on which the avatar was sitting was avoided by almost all test subjects. So the majority of people decided where to sit next to the empty chair next to the avatar that had already disappeared. The scientists were also able to determine that test subjects were just as reluctant to carry out activities that they normally carried out alone when they were being observed by a virtual avatar. This is because the brain perceives realistic-looking human avatars as real.


So what does this mean for marketing?

AR content is therefore integrated into the perception of the physical environment. However, the results of these studies only scratch the surface of this exciting area on the influences of VR and AR technologies on the human psyche. The application of mixed reality will continue to develop over the years and new areas of application are constantly emerging. More research will be needed to fully understand the psychological effects associated with this.

The psychological influence of VR and AR technologies allows us to establish the following connections with regard to digital marketing: One example is the virtual product presentation using AR. In general, in contrast to online shops with normal static product photos, a higher conversion rate can be measured for companies that visualize their products online using AR. Why is that? Just as in the study, this can be an indication that online customers see virtual products as real, just as illustrated in the study. Similar to the virtual avatar, which suddenly finds itself in the same room due to AR and then triggers a certain social behavior in people, the display of digital furniture can do the same, for example. So when a virtual piece of furniture is placed in one's own home, this triggers a "must have" feeling. The armchair not only looks beautiful, it even stands in your own living room and reinforces the impression of how it would really look next to the rest of the furniture. The purchase decision then becomes easier because customers already have the product at home – even if that is not the case at first.