Relationship in Virtual reality

There are a lot of different ways to think about virtual reality relationships and how to find one for yourself. It’s been stated many times that a VR relationship can be much deeper and more meaningful than a traditional relationship. There are many different reasons that people come to this conclusion. There’s a paper that lends lots of credence to this idea and it’s been published by Stanford University. It was written by Sabrina A. Huang and Jeremy Bailenson and they have a lot to say on the subject. Here are the reasons that VR can help you form a deeper relationship than a traditional one.

Relationships are very important to humans

As they state right at the beginning, “From infancy to adulthood, relationships color individuals’ lives. Relationships are sources of intimacy, social support, sadness when conflicts occur, and happiness when the relationship goes well. During adulthood, romantic relationships are of particular salience. The initiation, maintenance, and (for some) dissolutions of romantic relationships constitute notable events in the tapestry of life, and play a considerable role in shaping one’s self-concept, well-being, and behavior. For these reasons, understanding the processes that underlie romantic relationships is essential for furthering our understanding of the human life experience.”

That means that relationship are so important to us that the end of one can have an adverse effect on our mental states for the rest of our lives. As Berscheid wrote in 1999, “We are born into relationships, we live our lives in relationships with others, and when we die, the effects of our relationships survive in the lives of the living, reverberating throughout the tissue of their relationships”

Basically, relationship might just be the most important things in our lives and that’s going to have a huge impact on the virtual relationships we grow.

Attachment and relationships

What it all really comes down to is attachment, and that’s not something that should be taken very lightly. Attachment is the process of developing affections toward others. The origins of attachment theory lie within the realm of developmental psychology. In fact, from birth, infants are predisposed to become attached to their primary caregiver, and actively engage in attachment behaviors such as smiling, rooting, crying, and sucking that promote physical proximity and social interaction with the caregiver.

They go even further when they say “Further research in this area identified three main patterns of attachment behavior: secure, avoidant, and ambivalent/resistant. They noted that children with a secure attachment style feel safe and confident in exploring their world, knowing that their caregiver will be available, responsive, and helpful if they experience any frightening or threatening situations. Avoidant children, on the contrary, expect little to no help (or even rebuttal) from their caregivers, and avoid proximity and interaction with their caregivers after frightening situations. Ambivalent/resistant children are unsure of their caregiver’s availability or responsiveness, and as a result tend to cling to their caregivers. These three styles of attachment are internalized, and become part of the child’s internal working model of attachment.”

Adult relationships and VR

So, that’s where attachment and relationships come from in humans, but what about adults in the VR world? Once you consider the fact that the virtual world becomes real to the viewer, it starts making sense. In VR, users feel as though they are psychologically present in the virtual world and that the virtual world surrounds them and becomes the world in which they, as of that moment, inhabit. With the addition of equipment that tracks information such as current head orientation (and therefore line of sight), position in physical space, and body movements (e.g., hands, arms, legs), users are able to interact with the virtual environment, which then increases their perception of psychological presence and immersion.

When the world around you is so real then the relationships you build within them are going to be just as real. That’s why it’s so easy to grow a real relationship within VR. You’re already set to believe the virtual world around you, so you’re also going to believe in the relationships. Just because you’re not face to face with someone doesn’t mean that the relationship is any less real and that’s a big deal.

Stand-ins for real life emotions

Not being able to see emotions on your partner’s face is a real sticking point for VR relationship detractors. According to this paper, that’s not really a big deal. That’s because there are other ways to interact with one another in the virtual world. As they say in the paper, “Further work is needed to explore the utility of virtual reality as a method for studying adult attachment processes and for theory-building. For example, the ability to manipulate the presence, distance, and actions of a partner’s avatar could help shed light on the impact of nonverbal behavior on the activation of attachment-related behavior and goals. Longitudinal studies would be particularly beneficial for examining the long-term consequences of interacting socially in a virtual setting, particularly in comparison to face-to-face interactions and purely text-based communication. Given the added affordances of virtual reality (e.g., avatars, body language, perceived “physical” distance), how does intimacy develop in immersive virtual environments? The use of virtual reality would also aid researcher efforts in understanding the neurological underpinnings of adult attachment styles, especially given the growing body of literature at the intersection of cyberpsychology and the social neurosciences.”

It’s as real as you want it to be

When you really get down to it then you’re going to be left with one truth that you can’t escape. It’s that any VR relationship is going to be as real as you want it to be. That’s really all there is to it. If you want it to be real, then it’s going to be real and there are ways around the physical limitations. That leaves the virtual world completely open to foster any type of relationship that you want to have. No other person is ever going to be able to tell you otherwise.