Friday, July 17, 2009

Reality vs Virtual Reality?

Neuropath Learning has always made it an point to use real-world photographic images and videos, natural sounds and human voices in a real life context. No cartoons, virtual environments or computer generated audio. This unique feature of our product is one of the important things that set us apart from other educational software and learning systems. However, virtual environments have been frequently used for training and skill improvement. Do real and virtual worlds engage the same brain states in human perceivers? That is what a team of research scientists led by Shihui Han set to find out.

They measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while subjects watched movie and cartoon clips, simulating real and virtual visual worlds, respectively. Relative to baselines using random static images, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the cerebellum were activated only by movie clips of other humans. In contrast, cartoon clips of human and non-human agents activated the superior parietal lobes, while movie clips of animals also activated the superior parietal lobes. Their fMRI findings suggest that the perception of real-world humans is characterised by the involvement of pre-frontal cortex and the cerebellum.
It is important to note that the prefrontal cortex is where most of our cognitive functions such as "working memory" and "executive function"are located in the brain. Our learning programs are packed with hundreds and thousands of images of human faces, especially those of children. Therefore, the Neuropath Learning process must stimulate the developing brain differently from a learning system that uses cartoon and virtual reality. Given that greater stimulation of specific brain regions generally leads to enhanced development of those parts and the functions housed within, our real-world learning system is definite at an advantage when it come to facilitating cognitive development. Use of real-world stimuli is one of the criteria that makes it a true brain based learning program. Which means it is designed around the way the brain is attracted to and retains new and useful information.

Another study, conducted by scientists in Italy, found that watching a video of a real hand moving vs. an animation of a moving cartoon hand stimulated the brain differently.

This team of researchers, led by Daniel Perani, investigated whether observation of actions reproduced in three-dimensional virtual reality would engage perceptual and visuomotor brain processes different from those induced by the observation of real hand actions. Participants were asked to passively observe grasping actions of geometrical objects made by a real hand or by hand reconstructions of different quality in 3D virtual reality as well as on a 2D TV screen. They found that only real actions in a natural environment activated the visuospatial network including the right posterior parietal cortex. Observation of virtual-reality hand actions engaged prevalent visual perceptual processes within lateral and mesial occipital regions. Thus, only perception of actions in reality, maps onto existing action representations, whereas virtual-reality conditions do not access the full motor knowledge available to the central nervous system. They also noted that the degree of realism in the reproduction of the virtual reality hand seemed to have limited effect, in particular in the engagement of right hemispheric structures. This means that virtual reality cannot substitute for reality because they are not processed by the same neural networks.

In other words, if you want to teach someone to tie their shoe laces, you will be far more successful using a real life movie rather than a computer generated graphic animation. Definitely something to keep in mind!


Michael Leventhal said...

thank you for an explanation of the science

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simwave said...

It is important to remember that the goal that we strive for in regards to our learners is that they would achieve a deeper, sustainable learning that is driven by intrinsic motivation more and extrinsic motivators less.

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