Connecting neuroscience to VR advances can augment learning process

by Guy Frum

The idea of learning by doing has long been a fundamental of how humans take skills they have only observed and change them into their own functional abilities.
Of course, that is often a lot more simple than it sounds considering how some of our most important skills are ones that can only be practiced in extremely high-pressure situations - doctors, soldiers, and so forth.

That said, neuroscientists are very interested in exploring how much virtual reality (VR) can be used to harness the power of learning by doing.
If situations are realistic enough inside a VR headset and digitally-constructed environment, will a person be able to successfully replicate those abilities in the real world? Cognitive neuroscientist Michael Casale, the chief science officer at Strivir, thinks the possibilities are infinite in this regard.
Strivir is an immersive learning platform that is preaching the power of VR learning. Casale recently touched on several related subjects in an interview.

Breakthroughs in the Making

Dr. Casale says that VR is providing to be a vital key in proving theories about how the human brain works and what it is capable of achieving.

“We’re validating these concepts that were just starting to trickle out five or 10 years ago, and that work continues to grow,” Dr. Casale says.
“The simulations we create in virtual environments, if they’re created correctly, are able to produce very similar types of brain activation to what we see in real-world environments. That’s a critical point because having the biology to back that up is really important. Obviously, it’s a little bit more difficult to do that work in applied industry settings.
Being able to see people’s reactions inside a VR environment is giving neuroscientists a much better ‘insider’s look’ to how people’s brains react to certain stimuli than say reaching questions on a screen or watching a video or a basic presentation on a monitor. 
“The way people react to these virtual environments is much more consistent with what we are noticing or with what is going to happen in the real world versus if they’re just sitting there passively in front of PowerPoint, looking at multiple-choice questions, etc.,” Casale says. “Virtual reality is a research tool in the behavioral sciences. We’re seeing more neuroscience research using virtual reality as well.
For researchers who are trying to understand what’s going on in the brain, it’s the same principle. They can do that in a more valid, more relevant way. What we’re finding is that there are very similar types of brain networks activated in these virtual environments.”

It’s a great fit because it allows innovation to blend with health, safety, and a lower cost of both materials and risk, for therapists seeking to help patients from afar. Whether a person’s fear is heights, snakes, deep water, public speaking, VR technology can be used to realistically emulate that trauma to keep the person safe and the costs from becoming exorbitant.
If successful on this first level of trials, VRET could eventually be used to fight painful disorders such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There has been some use of this already; a 2019 clinical trial that took place in the UK where VR therapy helped patients with schizophrenia by recreating stressful situations and helping clients learn how to re-engage the real world in a controlled environment.