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The Reality Of Virtual Reality

Do you remember your very  first experience with virtual reality? Was it the flight simulator that you played on your PC? Or that car racing game on your PlayStation? Or tennis on your Wii?

It’s none of the above. You experienced virtual reality for the first time when you were a child, and someone told you a story, or read you a book. 

Listen to Jeff Zacks, associate professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, as he explains how reading creates ‘simulations’ in minds in NPR’s Science Out of the Box.

Prof. Zacks says:

“We’re used to thinking that virtual reality is something that involves fancy computers, helmets and gadgets. But what these kind of data suggest is that language itself is a powerful form of virtual reality… There’s an important sense in which when we tell each other stories that we can control the perceptual processes that are happening in each others brains.”

Refering to this study by Zacks and Nicole Speer, in her psychology article, Kendra Van Wagner writes:

“What they discovered is that as people read, the creation of vivid mental representations activated the same areas of the brain that process similar real life experiences. In other words, you are constructing a virtual reality of your own inside of your head every time you read.”

Have you ever watched a movie that was based on a book and felt that the book was much better? It’s probably because your  ‘mental simulation’ of the story was much better than what they could picturize in a movie. This also underscores why reading books to kids is such a big deal.

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