Can virtual reality trick your brain? Even if yes, why should we do it? A brain is an incredible tool capable of learning, adapting and coping with everyday challenges. But usually, first you need experience a challenge to be able to learn from it and adapt. And, of course, the first attempts are also not usually successful, right? So how can we challenge ourselves and so facilitate your skills, flexibility, and the capability to habituate to recurring stressful situations you encounter? Well, we can use some tricks and at MindBox VR, we made a little research and experiment.

Most everyday challenges stem from social interactions – giving a speech in a public or media, present a product, negotiate an important contract and so on. Actually, anxiety, fear, and worries related to such social stressors are the most prevalent in our modern society. Given these facts, we were interested whether it would be possible to trick our brain to respond adaptively and learn how to cope with such situations using virtual reality. Our idea was to take some of the well-established psychotherapeutic and coaching methods (e.g., systematic exposure, desensitization, training) and use them in the virtual environment to facilitate social skills and performance. What was the setup?

Experiment & Procedure

41 healthy young adults aged between 19 to 33 years participated in the study with average age 21,8 years. The experiment was attended by 13 males and 28 females.

The individuals were randomly divided into either control condition (15 participants) or a social challenge (26 participants) in virtual reality. Prior to any VR exposition, participants of the both groups completed three self-reporting measures in order to evaluate their degree of trait anxiety (i.e., an individual tendency to respond anxiously in stress or difficult situations), fear of negative evaluation (individual tendency worry about others’ evaluations and overestimate their impact), and state anxiety (the current intensity of self-perceived anxiety). Thereafter, the participants entered into virtual reality simulation while their heart rate was monitored and recorder. This physiological measure was used as an objective index of arousal and degree of challenge.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality was simulated using Oculus Rift and two touch sensors monitoring the relative position of participant’s hands.

Image 1: Oculus rift with touch controllers and sensors

Firstly, participants were provided 5 minutes to familiarize with the virtual environment and functionality. Next, they were comfortably seated and asked to relax for approximately 12 minutes. During this period a relaxing virtual simulation was projected. This treatment was introduced to let the participants’ arousal recover to the baseline level (the last 4 minutes of the relaxing period was used to estimate participants’ baseline heart rate).

Challenge group

After the relaxation, the individuals in challenge group was introduced into a simulated medium-sized virtual lecture hall filled with virtual audience.

Virtual audience preview

Image 2: MindBox VR virtual audience


Briefly, after the simulation started, the participants were required to:

  1. introduce themselves in front of the audience,
  2. describe their current occupation or field of study,
  3. evaluate how successful they think they are using examples, where they see themselves in 5 years and why,
  4. name three of their positive and negative personality traits that affect their job or university outcomes,
  5. describe how they react to and cope with workload or stress in their workplace.

The guided structured questions took approximately 8 minutes. This period was split into two 4-minute intervals that were evaluated separately.

Control group

The conditions in control group were kept as similar to the stress group as possible, with exception of the actual VR simulation. Instead of the interview in front of the virtual audience, participants in the control group were asked to provide their subjective feeling about a set of virtual scenes on using a simple scale. Indeed, this condition was much less ego-involving and evaluative.


Interestingly, although both groups were equal in their levels of trait anxiety and fear of negative evaluation and although both groups felt equally anxious prior the stimulation, their physiological response to the virtual reality experience was substantially different! First of all, the heart rate – our measure of psychophysiological arousal – was the same at the end of the relaxation. However, when put into either the control or challenging simulation, their course of physiological arousal started to diverge. The individuals who gave an interview in front of the virtual audience responded with a sharp increase in physiological arousal, suggesting they were more challenged and perhaps stressed, which remained increased also in the second half of the interview. On the other hand, the group of participants which rated the virtual scenes responded only a mild physiological activation, which disappeared later on. With this results, virtual reality training focused on interpersonal communication and presentation can be more effective than ever.

physiological arousal chart

Image 3: Physiological arousal chart


What do these findings demonstrate and how to use them? Well, first, the findings suggest that performing in VR can mimic the real world challenges, which is neccessary for virtual reality training. But this is really important! By such exposures, we provide our brain with the possibility to adapt and habituate to such situations. When systematic, this virtual reality training can be used to desensitize our fears, concerns, and anxiety related to social challenges and hence improve our social skills and work performance without the actual experience of a failure or insecurity.


The experiment was implemented in collaboration with Department of Behavioural Neuroscience from Centre of Experimental Medicine of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Faculty of Arts from Comenius University in Bratislava.

Training employees require qualified trainers, time and, of course, money. There is no assurance that each employee receives the same level of know-how and will be fully prepared for their role. Entrepreneurs are now looking for solutions that are cost and time-effective. E-learning opened doors to self-paced learning and flexibility. Virtual reality offers automatization, individual approach and a safe environment for trial and error without consequences.

Is VR the future of e-learning?

We live in the world full of distractions. Attachment to our smartphones, checking out the e-mails, messages, notifications, scrolling the social media sites and reading the news caused a huge drop in the employee’s productivity. According to The Information Overload Research Group, distraction costs our economy around $997 billion annually. E-learning solves a lot of problems of a traditional classroom, yet it requires laptop or smartphone, what cause a new range of issues. Distraction is literally one click away.

Virtual reality, on the other side, usually requires a headset. A learner is immersed in the artificial environment. There is no space to wander the attention to Facebook or passively digest the information. VR also offers various scenarios that prompt the learner to find the best solutions. Imagine you’re training a customer support employee whose main job description is to communicate with clients. You can give them a pdf with questions and the best possible answers or you can do the role plays. VR offers an inexpensive and more effective alternative.

Supported by research and e-learning leaders

Studies suggest that VR is at least as effective as other forms of e-learning and a way more engaging. The interest rate for VR training is usually 50 % higher than for traditional forms of training. There is still a lot of research to be done. What we know now suggests that people react the same way to situations in virtual reality as they do in real life. This could also mean that they can retain the information from experience and recall it later when they need it.

Investors and tech companies see the potential in the future of VR learning. Goldman Sachs has forecast the growth of VR education up to $ 700 million by 2025. Udemy predicts that in 2018 the VR and AR (augmented reality) in e-learning will gain ground as costs come down, they also expect the growth of VR offerings from current 4% to 20% of all learning and development resources.

How are companies embracing VR in training employees?

Walmart is one of the pioneering companies who involved the latest technology in their training program for store associates – Walmart Academy. Thanks to VR they can prepare their employees for various situations they might face in their job and still provide the best shopping experience to the customers. Black Friday is one of those events when the thorough preparation is especially needed.

KFC took the employee training to a whole new level and made the onboarding VR experience little bit creepy, yet unforgettable. New employees are in VR closed in an escape room where they have to learn how to make signature KFC fried chicken. Narrator Colonel Sanders doesn’t make it easier for them. KFC understands that nothing can replace the real hands-on experience but VR initiation to KFC could speed up the learning process. The employees will definitely never forget their first experience of preparing the virtual chicken.

The rapid expansion brings a lot of challenges. Hiring a big number of employees in a short time span and losing the essence of the company are two biggest issues businesses are facing. Chain of healthy eateries, Honeygrow, identified potential risks of growing fast and distancing from their core values in the process. Their approach to expanding the business and avoid negotiating their original company culture involved the use of virtual reality. Honeygrow introduced VR to their training program in 2017 and they’re excited about the results. VR allows them to educate their employees continually, keep them committed to the company values, prepare them for challenges in their jobs and keep them engaged in a learning process.

How can you benefit from virtual reality in E-learning in your business?

The technical requirements for VR are usually the main factor slowing down the implementation of VR into the training program of employees. Comparing to a traditional approach to onboarding and training, VR still offers a cost-effective alternative. Prices for devices are expected to be dropping, the cheapest headsets cost already just a few dollars. Companies such as MindBox VR are offering platforms supporting VR for trainers to easily create VR training programs without a single line of code. MindBox VR platform, in particular, includes a unique voice recognition feature that allows the “real-life” interaction between the trainee and a virtual customer. Clients expect the ultimate solution that prepares the employees for their role in the company, simulation of a real-life conversation is especially beneficial for employees in sales and customer support departments.

MindBox VR training preparation

VR allows you to create a distraction-free environment, full immersion into the topic and individual approach to learning. Companies see VR as a useful tool for onboarding and training new employees, improving the response of operators as well as increasing the customer satisfaction, continually educating their sales team and therefore boosting their sales results. According to Udemy, organizations nowadays are widely starting to use VR for training the soft skills. VR can be very useful for training employees in areas such as diversity & inclusion, communication with customers, negotiation, sales or even innovation and problem-solving. The trainers are completely free to create a training program that suits the company’s needs.

Udemy claims that VR and AR are set to be the biggest disruption to learning since the Internet. The next few years could be crucial for the development of VR as an integral part of e-learning industry worldwide