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Stanford Study Finds VR Environment and Avatar Impact on Learning Outcomes


  1. A Stanford University study found that virtual reality (VR) environments and avatars can have significant impacts on psychological outcomes.

  2. The study conducted in Stanford's Virtual People course analyzed hundreds of thousands of minutes of interactions in VR environments.

  3. Large, outdoor VR environments were found to improve group bonding and enjoyment, while self-avatars resembling physical appearance increased group bonding and presence but also self-consciousness.

  4. These findings are important for educators and VR developers to consider when using VR as a learning tool.


Virtual reality (VR) has long been considered a potential game-changer for education. From allowing students to visit distant places and interact with different cultures to providing immersive, hands-on experiences, the potential benefits of VR in the classroom are vast. However, a new study from Stanford University shows that the choices we make when it comes to virtual environments and avatars can have significant impacts on the psychological outcomes of our VR experiences.

Virtual People course utilizes VR for eight week study

The study, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, was conducted as part of Stanford's Virtual People course, which was taught entirely in VR. Over the course of eight weeks, 272 students used VR headsets to meet in virtual environments for 30 minutes each week, participating in two experiments that allowed researchers to analyze hundreds of thousands of minutes of interactions.

Examining the Effects of Virtual Environments and Avatars on Social Interactions

One experiment focused on the effects of different virtual environments on social interactions, while the other examined the impact of different avatars on social behaviors. The researchers found that students who interacted in spacious, outdoor virtual environments exhibited greater non-verbal synchrony and reported increased levels of group cohesion, pleasure, arousal, presence, and enjoyment. In contrast, students who interacted in constrained environments experienced fewer positive outcomes.

Effects of Self-Avatars on Group Cohesion and Learning Experience

The researchers also found that students who used self-avatars, which resembled their physical-world appearances, experienced higher levels of group cohesion and presence than those who used generic avatars. However, students who used self-avatars also reported higher levels of self-consciousness and self-monitoring, which could potentially have negative impacts on their learning experiences.

The psychological impacts of VR on learning and social interaction

These findings have important implications for educators and VR developers who are looking to use VR as a learning tool. By understanding the psychological impacts of different virtual environments and avatars, educators can design VR experiences that promote positive outcomes and enhance the learning experience. Similarly, VR developers can create virtual environments and avatars that support social interaction and promote positive psychological outcomes.


Overall, the Stanford study shows that virtual reality has the potential to significantly impact learning in a positive way. By carefully considering the choices we make when it comes to virtual environments and avatars, we can create immersive, engaging VR experiences that promote positive psychological outcomes and enhance the learning experience.

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