San Francisco, CA – Common Sense, the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology, released a new report today on the potential impact of virtual reality on kids' cognitive, social, and physical well-being, including VR's ability to shape the perspectives of young minds. The report includes an up-to-date synthesis of existing VR research, as well as a new survey conducted in collaboration with SurveyMonkey on top parent concerns, health effects, and VR as a tool for inspiring empathy in young people.
Given the emerging popularity of VR technology, Common Sense set out to understand the effects of children's use of immersive VR on their still-developing brains, as well as parental attitudes and concerns. The report, Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, finds that most parents have some concerns about VR and that leading experts are advocating for moderation, supervision, and additional research as VR becomes increasingly prevalent in entertainment, education, and health care.
Key findings from the report include:
One in five U.S. parents today reports living in a household with VR, though many parents (65 percent) say they are not planning to buy a VR device.
VR is likely to have powerful effects on children because it can provoke a response to virtual experiences similar to a response to actual experiences.
Characters in VR may be especially influential on young children, even more so than characters on TV or computers. This can be good or bad depending on the influence.
Overall, 62 percent of parents believe that VR will provide educational experiences for their children, and that number is higher (84 percent) among parents whose children are already using VR.
Sixty percent of parents say they are at least "somewhat concerned" that their children will experience negative health effects while using VR.
Some parents report that kids are already experiencing health issues, including 13 percent who have bumped into something; eleven percent who have experienced dizziness; ten percent who have had headaches; and eight percent who have had eyestrain.
VR can potentially be an effective tool for encouraging empathy among children for people who are different from them, although parents are skeptical: Thirty-eight percent of all parents think VR will help children empathize with different people. This number increases to 56 percent for parents of VR-using 8- to 17-year olds.
"VR is an exciting new technology that is already showing promise in teaching children important life skills such as empathy and perspective," said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense. "There is still a lot to learn about VR, and we have a responsibility to parents and educators to understand how it impacts child development so they can minimize the potentially negative effects while maximizing the positives. As advocates and researchers, we have a unique opportunity to stay on top of this emerging technology and influence its development to help kids learn, achieve better health outcomes, and enhance their entertainment."
The report highlights some promising opportunities for parents and educators to be aware of. For example, for older children beginning to develop the ability to understand the perspectives of others, VR could help diminish racial bias and encourage empathy. And while it is important to be aware that young children who use VR may have difficulty distinguishing between virtual experiences and real experiences, they also could benefit by developing prosocial behaviors as a result of VR experiences with characters.
In addition to the learning and educational impact of VR, the report highlights other potential positive and negative health impacts, including, on the negative side, sensory and vision issues, aggressive behavior, and escapism and distraction, and, on the positive side, pain management and rehabilitation.
Jeremy Bailenson, the head of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, added, "While VR research is limited, parental concerns about safety are legitimate, and there are some simple things they can do now to help protect their kids, from physical protections, like setting time limits and creating a safe space for kids to sit down and experience VR, to being aware of content and talking to kids about what they are experiencing, including the difference between real and virtual characters."
Methodology: This Common Sense Media/SurveyMonkey online poll was conducted December 21–31, 2017, among a national sample of 12,148 adults. Of the adults sampled, 3,613 were the parent of at least one child under 18, and 471 indicated that they had a child between 8 and 17 years old who uses VR. Respondents for this survey were selected from the nearly 3 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. Data have been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the United States in terms of age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.