22.01.20

VR headset learning may hinder memory retention

close-up of woman wearing VR headset and pointing

Virtual reality applications in educational settings are becoming more widespread throughout the world, with the emergency services in particular quickly becoming one of the fastest growing adopters of commercial VR to train users in settings that they may not experience in practical training or simulation sessions. However, a new study carried out by researchers at the Toyohashi University of Technology and the Tokyo Denki University in Japan have claimed that virtual reality learning through motion-tracking head mounted displays could have a negative effect on memory retention compared to conventional methods in video learning applications.

The study, published in peer-reviewed journal, Frontiers in Psychology, claims that head mounted displays (HMDs) with head-tracking functions can affect the memory of its user, stating that: “A head-tracking function mounted on an HMD helps to detect the user’s head direction to enable a simulation experience akin to the real world. When we experience a simulation on an HMD, we actively perceive the visual world. In this study, we assessed how active/passive viewing affects users’ memory of VR content. 

“A head-tracking function mounted on an HMD helps to detect the user’s head direction to enable a simulation experience akin to the real world. When we experience a simulation on an HMD, we actively perceive the visual world. In this study, we assessed how active/passive viewing affects users’ memory of VR content.”

The report concluded that active viewing in VR with a head-tracking function enabled could inhibit users’ memory retention compared to passive viewing of VR content. 

Participants in the study watched a 2D movie on an HMD in either an active or passive viewing capacity, with the presented view changing with the participant’s head direction. 

The passive viewing condition presented the view as a recording of the movie that was shown to the participants in the active viewing condition. 

The study clarified: “While watching the movie, the participants learned about the paintings of two artists. Then, the participants completed a discrimination test and a memory test about the presented paintings in the movie, and they answered a questionnaire about the movie. 

“The discrimination test asked the participants to distinguish between two painters’ paintings that had not been presented in the movie, whereas the memory test asked participants to distinguish paintings that had been presented. Two weeks later, all participants took the discrimination test and memory test again to assess the long-term effects.”  


Conversely, previous studies have indicated that active viewing could enhance visual memory, with an expectation that there would be little to no difference in memory performance between active and passive viewing conditions.
The study added: For the discrimination test, participants were required to discriminate between paintings by Rubens and Nicolas that had not been presented. If the participants had formed concepts about Rubens’ and Nicolas’ paintings (Rubens and Nicolas styles), these concepts would help them select the correct answers in the discrimination test. 
“Concept formation requires exposure examples and memory of examples affects concept formation. Therefore, if the trials were sufficient to form concepts in this study, the participants’ performance in the active condition might be different from that in the passive condition when memory performance differed between the active and passive viewing conditions.”