Are virtual reality headsets safe for children?

VR headsets are likely to be at the top of many kids’ wish lists this holiday season, but with many age-restricted VR headsets, is the technology safe for youngsters?

Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR headsets are recommended for ages 13 and up, while Sony’s recommendation for its PlayStation VR is ages 12 and up. HTC Vive is not designed for children, according to the company, and HTC said that young children should not be able to use the headphones at all. And Google said its relatively low-tech Cardboard headphones should be used by children only under adult supervision.

The companies have offered little explanation for these age recommendations. So what does the science say? According to Marientina Gotsis, director of the Center for Creative Media and Behavioral Health at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, not many. [ Fotos: La realidad virtual pone a los adultos en el mundo de un niño ]

“We don’t have enough data on the safety of current VR technology for children,” he told Rhythm89. “So the paucity of research data and what we know about neuroplasticity [la capacidad del cerebro para reorganizarse] and kids doesn’t make me feel comfortable recommending what’s available now.”

brain development

In a 2014 study on rats, researchers at the University of California found that neurons in a brain region associated with spatial learning behaved completely differently in virtual environments compared to real ones, with more than half of the neurons shutting down while in virtual reality. It’s not clear what this means for humans, but the scientists said it highlights the need for more research into the long-term effects of virtual reality.

Gotsis said virtual reality could have an even greater impact on the developing brains of children. The he center uses entertainment technology, including virtual reality, for behavioral and mental health research. She has worked on virtual reality apps for children, but only in very controlled situations.

“The brain is very plastic at an early age, and prolonged exposure with ill-fitting devices could cause damage,” he said. “Children may also not understand how to communicate eye strain and may lack the reflexes to remove devices if they find them uncomfortable.”

Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean VR isn’t safe for kids and never will be, he said, adding that VR safety varies by device, type of content and time spent using it. as well as according to the individual child using it. [ 11 datos que todo padre debe saber sobre el cerebro de su bebé ]

VR and vision

One of the biggest concerns is the impact virtual reality technology could have on children’s eyes. Parents have long told kids that staring at a screen will make their eyes squint, but the American Academy of Ophthalmology says there’s no evidence that prolonged exposure to screens can cause permanent damage.

But another problem with virtual reality is the so-called convergence-accommodation conflict. When you see the world normally, your eye first points to the eyeballs – vergence – and then focuses the lenses – accommodation – on an object, and then these two processes couple to create a coherent image.

Modern virtual reality headsets achieve the illusion of depth by presenting each eye with a slightly different image on a flat screen. This means that no matter how far away an object appears, the eyes remain focused on a fixed point, but converge on something in the virtual distance.

“Some scientists believe this is why some people experience symptoms when viewing 3D stimuli – TV and cinema, as well as headphones,” said Peter Howarth, an optometrist and senior lecturer in visual ergonomics at Loughborough University in the UK. .

However, Howarth said there is good evidence to suggest that only those with already weak eye movement and control are likely to experience adverse effects such as headaches and eyestrain. For children, these symptoms are good indicators that these children need to have their vision checked, so virtual reality headsets can help detect existing problems, she added.

Howarth said that, to his knowledge, no academic studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of virtual reality on children’s eyes, although it’s possible that VR goggle manufacturers have conducted research in this area. back so that if a child develops a squint, they are not responsible,” he told Rhythm89.

lack of research

Michael Madary, a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Mainz in Germany, who in February co-authored the first code of ethics on the use of virtual reality, said the dearth of research on the effects of virtual reality is unlikely to improve. virtual in children.

“For obvious ethical reasons, it’s very difficult to do research with children as subjects,” he told Rhythm89. Madary studies the ethics of emerging technologies, incorporating findings from psychology and neuroscience, and believes that the greatest concern with virtual reality is its effect on children’s psychological development.

“Children, at a young age, have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction or fantasy,” Madary said. “You could imagine putting them in virtual reality; that inability to distinguish could be exaggerated.”

For example, content that might be traumatic when viewed in theaters is likely to have an even greater impact in VR. And the negative effects of advertising and unsavory role models on television could be greatly exacerbated by virtual reality, Madary added.

“In virtual reality, you have a whole environment designed by someone who may want to manipulate you, whether it’s for advertising, for political reasons, for religious reasons,” he said. “If you have a child who spends a lot of time immersed in a virtual reality environment where manipulation is going on, it could be seen as a threat to their autonomy and the kind of adults they become.”

And while virtual reality has great potential, including for educational and therapeutic uses, Madary said manufacturers need to team up with scientists to investigate the technology’s long-term implications. Until then, she recommends erring on the side of caution.

“I suspect that if parents are doing a good job of parenting, that’s pretty much the biggest factor,” he said. “It’s just acting with extreme caution and knowing that the experiments haven’t been done, so you’re experimenting with your kids.”

editor’s note : Our sister site, Tom’s Hardware, has a great introduction to how virtual reality has evolved since the 1950s. And if you’re in the market for VR, check out Tom’s Guide to VR Headset Recommendations.

Original article in Ritmo89.