Memory Recall and the Role of Virtual Reality


For thousands of years, humans have used technology to aid their recall of information. From paper and pen to digital media, virtual reality (VR) stands at the pinnacle. While most people know VR as a tool for playing games or experiencing 3D videos, researchers worldwide have recognized its vast educational applications, specifically when it comes to improving our recall of information. Understanding how our brains normally process and recall information is necessary to comprehend the educational and social applications of VR.

Introduction to Memory Recall

The human brain performs various memory recall functions, including recognition and recall. Memory recognition, controlled by the visual cortex, enables us to flag information in our brain so that we recognize it the next time we see it. On the other hand, recall is supported by a different network of synapses in the brain, including the temporal lobe and the frontal cortex, allowing us to recreate specific memories. To store this information, the brain uses a process called “encoding,” which strengthens neural pathways. Repetition and a combination of stimuli such as sight and sound can improve encoding, which is where VR comes in.

Improving Memory Recall

A study by Eric Krokos, Catherine Plaisant, and Amitabh Varshney explored the effectiveness of VR-based learning versus traditional platforms, such as a desktop computer. Participants were fully immersed in a “memory palace,” and their ability to recall objects based on virtual locations was measured. Participants consistently demonstrated 10% higher memory recall ability while using a head-mounted display in virtual reality. The ability to combine multiple stimuli in a 3D space enabled participants to create their own virtual experiences, strengthening their neural pathways and encoding information more effectively than those who did not utilize VR.

As younger generations become more accustomed to the virtual world, educators are looking for opportunities to engage with their students and improve their cognitive learning processes. A study by George Papanastasiou, Athanasios Drigas, Charalabos Skianis, Miltiadis Lytras, and Effrosyni Papanastasiou found 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.

Incorporating HistoryView VR tours into classrooms has allowed students worldwide to experience marvels such as the King Tut Museum and the rainforests of the Amazon. VR provides students with the opportunity to explore their environments in a way that was previously impossible. Reading about the battles that took place in the Roman Colosseum and then having a chance to walk through the ancient amphitheater via a VR tour is a way for HistoryView to bring these locations to life. Having the spatial reference allows students to commit their multi-pronged education to long-term memory.

Virtual reality (VR) tours are transforming not only the educational landscape, but also the way we approach memory impairment in our senior community. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are two of the most common degenerative brain diseases that cause mild to severe memory impairment. Researchers have conducted numerous neuropsychological assessments over the years to measure the impact of various learning techniques on memory recall, including VR-based learning. A study conducted by Plancher et al. targeted patients with moderate amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) diseases such as Alzheimer’s and attempted to determine whether cognitive function and memory recall could be influenced by the type of memory exercise (VR vs. standard). The study found that VR-based testing could be used for rehabilitation and also provided insight into early diagnosis.

HistoryView’s virtual learning environments are providing accessibility to museums, art exhibits, national parks, and historical sites for users who may not have the opportunity to experience them in person. Our platform offers interactive and engaging tours of historical landmarks in the comfort and convenience of any preferred environment.

Scholars, educators, and users agree that the integration of VR into educational settings has overwhelmingly positive effects on learning outcomes. Data from studies, including those conducted by Krokos et al. and Papanastasiou et al., have shown that VR can improve recall and 21st-century skills.

At HistoryView, we take pride in helping educate and benefit our users through our VR platform. The widespread applications of VR in education and for our senior citizens have proven to be valuable and continue to pave the way for new advancements in memory care.

Citations:Krokos, E., Plaisant, C., Varshney, A., & Shneiderman, B. (2018). Virtual memory palaces: immersion aids recall. Virtual Reality, 23(1), 1-15. doi: 10.1007/s10055-018-0346-3
Papanastasiou, G., Drigas, A., Skianis, C., & Vavouras, T. (2019). Virtual and augmented reality effects on K-12, higher and tertiary education students’ twenty-first-century skills. Virtual Reality, 23(4), 425-436. doi: 10.1007/s10055-018-0363-2
Plancher, G., Tirard, A., Gyselinck, V., Nicolas, S., & Piolino, P. (2012). Using virtual reality to characterize episodic memory profiles in amnestic mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease: Influence of active and passive encoding. Neuropsychologia, 50(5), 592-602. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.12.007

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