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Memory Recall and the Role of Virtual Reality

It’s no secret that humans have been using technology to help recall information for thousands of years. That technology has evolved from mere paper and pen to a world dominated by digital media, and standing at the pinnacle is virtual reality (VR). Most of us may know VR as a medium to play games or enjoy 3-D video experiences, but the academic community has now recognized its vast educational applications, specifically when discussing the way we recall our information. Over the course of the last few decades, researchers around the world have conducted studies on a wide range of participants to assess the viability of VR as a tool for improved memory recall. To understand the educational and social applications of VR, we need to first understand how our brains normally process and recall information.

Introduction to Memory Recall

The human brain is responsible for a variety of memory recall functions, two of which are recognition and recall. Memory recognition is the sensation you might receive when cramming for a test. Controlled by the visual cortex, it allows us to essentially flag information in our brain so that we recognize it the next time we see it. Recall on the other hand is supported by a different network of synapses in the brain including the temporal lobe and the frontal cortex, which allow us to recreate specific memories. The brain uses a process called “encoding” to store all of this information so that we can have it readily accessible when we need it. The only way for this encoding process to work and move what we’ve learned from short-term memory to long-term memory is to strengthen our neural pathways. We can do that through repetition and the combination of a variety of stimuli such as sight and sound, which is where VR comes in.

Improving Memory Recall

In a study conducted by Eric Krokos, Catherine Plaisant, and Amitabh Varshney, researchers explored the effectiveness of learning in a VR-based environment compared to a traditional platform such as a desktop computer. Participants were fully immersed into a “memory palace”, where they were measured on their ability to recall objects based on the virtual locations. The purpose of this example was to target the way in which the brain spatially organizes memories in an unknown environment. 

It was concluded that participants consistently had 10% higher memory recall ability while using a head mounted display (HMD) in virtual reality. The ability to combine the multiple stimuli in a 3-D space allowed participants to create their own virtual experiences, converting both their recognition and recall of the events into their long-term memory more effectively than those who did not utilize VR. The lived-in experience of a VR environment proved to be a more effective catalyst for encoding as the participants were able to ingest information as if they were experiencing the events in real time.

Due to the fact that younger generations are becoming more accustomed to this virtual world, educators are looking for opportunities to engage with their students and improve their cognitive learning processes. Based on a study from George Papanastasiou, Athanasios Drigas, Charalabos Skianis, Miltiadis Lytras and Effrosyni Papanastasiou, researchers concluded that VR applications provide an effective tool to enhance learning and memory, as they provide immersed multimodal environments enriched by multiple sensory features. Students between K-12 and even through the collegiate level experienced digital-age literacy, improved creative thinking, communication, collaboration and problem solving ability. These are the cornerstone skills identified by a twenty-first century society that helps students analyze and experience their information.

Incorporating the HistoryView VR tours into classrooms have allowed students around the world to experience marvels such as the King Tut Museum and the rainforests of the Amazon. VR simply gives students the opportunity to explore their environments in a way that they have never been able to before. Having a chance to learn about a subject in a classroom setting and then having the ability to physically experience it is an invaluable way to learn. Reading about the battles that took place in the Roman Colosseum and then having a chance to walk through the ancient amphitheater through a VR tour is a way that HistoryView brings these locations to life. Being able to understand where these events took place and having the spatial reference allows students to commit their multi-pronged education to long term memory. This means that instead of having to simply memorize, students are actually able to learn and retain information.

VR tours are not only revolutionizing the educational landscape, the applications for our senior community are groundbreaking. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are two of the most common degenerative brain diseases that cause mild to severe memory impairment. Numerous neuropsychological assessments have been conducted over the years to measure the impact of various learning techniques on memory recall, one of which was done by G. Plancher, A. Tirad, V. Gyselinck, S. Nicolas, and P. Piolino. In their study, researchers targeted patients with moderate amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) diseases such as Alzheimer’s and attempted to determine whether the ability of their cognitive function and memory recall could be influenced by the type of memory exercise (VR vs standard). The study found that there was a direct correlation between a patient’s exposure into an immersive environment and their ability to encode information. Positive performance scores by their patients indicated that VR-based testing could be used for rehabilitation while also providing insight into early diagnosis.

We have been able to make the world a smaller place by bringing the beauty and culture of museums, art exhibits, national parks, and historical sites to users that would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience them. The accessibility of these virtual learning environmentsin a classroom is what makes HistoryView so unique. We allow our users to take interactive and engaging tours of historical landmarks within the comfort and ease of their preferred environment. 

It’s safe to say that scholars, educators, and users all agree that the application of VR in an educational setting are overwhelmingly positive. The question still stands as to whether or not VR does in fact assist with memory recall. If the data has proven anything, the answer is unequivocally yes. The integration of VR into the educational field and for our senior citizens has proven to have widespread applications. We take great pride in being able to help educate and benefit our users through our VR platform.


 

Citations

Krokos, Eric, et al. “Virtual Memory Palaces: Immersion Aids Recall.” Virtual Reality : the Journal of the Virtual Reality Society, vol. 23, no. 1, Springer London, 2018, pp. 1–15, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10055-018-0346-3.

Papanastasiou, G., Drigas, A., Skianis, C. et al. Virtual and augmented reality effects on K-12, higher and tertiary education students’ twenty-first century skills. Virtual Reality 23, 425–436 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10055-018-0363-2

Plancher, G., et al. “Using Virtual Reality to Characterize Episodic Memory Profiles in Amnestic Mild Cognitive 

​Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease: Influence of Active and Passive Encoding.” Neuropsychologia, 

Pergamon, 13 Jan. 2012, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0028393211005586