Questions Raised About Psychosocial Impact of Virtual Reality Technology

With an abundance of recent press coverage featuring global thought-leaders extolling the virtues of virtual reality (VR) technology, it’s easy to get caught up in a utopian view of a society filled with VR tech. Fewer people are asking the tough questions, like whether VR technology could have wide ranging harmful psychosocial impacts throughout people’s lives, even for their spirituality.

At least one person is asking these questions however. Dr Mark E. Koltko-Rivera published a paper all the way back in 2005 titled The Potential Societal Impact of Virtual Reality. In it Dr Koltko-Rivera explores some of the potential social and psychological impacts that a “seamless VR” experience could have in the areas of “private experience, home and family, and religion and spirituality” as it increasingly becomes a part of everyday life over the next 20 years. He questions why VR technology has not had the same degree of academic scrutiny as other paradigm shifting technologies such as genetic engineering and cyborgization, and explores the potential of VR technology to profoundly alter human society by changing our “perceptions and interactions”. Finally, Dr Koltko-Rivera calls for further research into these areas and postulates a series of approaches and research questions that could be used to get to the heart of the matter.

Whether or not the research proposed by Dr Koltko-Rivera is forthcoming, his observations and the resulting questions he poses could prove useful to anyone interested in developing their consciousness in an increasingly virtual world.

Read the full paper to see what Dr Koltko-Rivera envisages as the possible downsides of VR technology, including how it may affect spirituality here.

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  1. I feel virtual reality would be very addictive. I saw an interview with someone who tried it, and he said it felt like he was actually there, feeling the wind in his hair etc. He seemed pretty excited about it.

    I’m not even sure I could try it, or would want to. I feel it would be too addictive. I used to play an online game as a teenager and got lost in that. When I eventually told my online gaming friends that I was leaving for good, they laughed, not believing me. They said they’d see me again soon enough.

    I also feel that a virtual reality is somehow a “dead world”. Games and TV all feel a bit like that to me. That when I get lost in those things I miss out on the real world, that has life and beauty in it. That has something real to it, that can be sensed when you sit outside.

  2. I really hope that many people will wake up to these terrible situations. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Nice study, thank you for sharing. It was intereting to see that despite being scientific, it was very readable and the author is considering the impact of VR on different areas of human life with a lot of common sense. I found the “virtual home” scenario quite scary actually, to replace real people and family with virtual entertainment:

    “Through this system, Smith lives in a mansion, with marble staircases, sauna, an Olympic-sized pool, private helipad, and other accoutrements. In this mansion lives, not only Smith, but also an attractive, caring partner, who may exist as an AI construct. Perhaps there are children as well, an entire family or extended family unit. Family and friends come by and visit, perhaps based in distributed VR networks that enable Smith’s real-world friends to interact in real time, or perhaps based on AI constructs. Family life, recreation, and adventure—almost every aspect of human life, short of the intake of nutrition and the elimination of waste products—can be simulated through VR…”

    I think its good to talk about these things and raise public awareness of how damaging psychologically they can be. I would be interested if there has been done any psychologcal/psychiatric study on how a long-term exposure to virtual reality (through extensive playing of computer games for example) affects a person on different levels. I am sure consciousness in particular would suffer a lot, as basically a person like that is living in a continuous day-dream, with just some breaks for basic life functions.

    • I agree that the virtual home sounds quite scary Lucia. What came to my mind while reading the paper was, but would people really desire to swap their real life to a virtual counterpart, wouldn’t there be a point where it gets boring and one-dimensional? But I suppose this depends on the person’s character, understanding, and strengths and weaknesses as well as their problems in life, meaning the more problems and the weaker character, the more you would want to immerse yourself in a virtual environment without second thoughts, especially if it evolves into something very life-like with sensory perceptions. Or if you grow up with it it might feel natural. As he mentioned in the paper, The Sims being “the best-selling computer game ever”, which is not even that life-like and you don’t get the immersive experience, it is still very addictive.

      Same goes for the game called Fallout (which appears to be a first-person shooting thing that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world), whose 4th game sold for 750 million in 24 hours and it was said it has the potential to ruin relationships because of its addictive qualities. What my point is that both of these games don’t give the VR type of immersive experience and don’t involve other senses but the sight and hearing, and yet they are immensely popular and addictive.

      As for spirituality, I think it might cause very big problems because for one it would enable the person to act out their lower drives and instincts and with that strengthen them, which would then affect their real life and suppress their spiritual part (like he was saying about aggression and sexuality), whereas in real life you would normally not act them out as much and at least keep them a little in control. If it would be possible to simulate some kind of a spiritual experience in the VR (such as using spiritual faculties) I wonder if it would make you less interested in trying out real spiritual practices that require much more patience and searching within. Although I doubt they would be able to simulate the experience of inner peace 😉 But the possibilities are endless, and everyone could do whatever they have always wanted to do, so it sounds like it would be immensely tempting and addictive and leave your real life stunted, not to mention the development of consciousness.

      Then there is also the fact that even now they are using the most popular video games out there to embed negative spiritual symbols in them used by the dark forces, some say even more so than in music or the movie industry because games are so popular. So I can’t imagine what the possibilities would be with the VR technology… When I read the part about taking part in virtual spiritual rituals what immediately came to mind was they would probably entice people with dark rituals, because they are being used even now in some popular video games, such as The Elder Scrolls where you get the best equipment and training by performing quests for demons and serving the ‘Dark Brotherhood’.

      What keeps coming to my mind when I read about the VR technology is that it would be such an efficient way to escape your pain. Even now the world is full of ways to numb and escape from your pain, think any entertainment or addictive thing we do. So if they develop an entertainment or environment which will surpass all the others and make you want to stay there, make you feel like you are experiencing something real, it would be so much more difficult to work with and face your inner pain or negativity and seek spirituality in real life. Thanks for sharing this paper!

  4. It’s as good a way as any to open the debate.

  5. What Dr Koltko-Rivera says about doing rituals using VR sounds really scary, as well what a corrupted mind can think about to put in place.
    I hope there are opposite forces and people using common sense at least to go against it.