New research has shown that virtual reality technology might make people more empathetic than when they watch traditional media. The theory is that viewing media in a simulated 3D environment is much more emotional than watching media in a traditional 2D environment.

Researchers from Aalto University in Finland recently conducted a study to see how people react when they see images of a face. When the human brain sees a face, it tries to determine the person’s mental state and their intentions. The researchers found that 3D images of faces generally spark more powerful emotions than basic 2D photographs.

The team displayed the 3D images using a technique known as stereoscopy. This is the same technique that is used to make 3D TV and virtual-reality goggles function properly. When the team showed 3D images of faces, the participants generally had more intense emotional reactions than when they were presented with regular 2D photographs.

According to the researchers, there is an abundance of extra information available in a 3D image of a face when compared with a 2D photograph. By viewing an image in 3D, the brain is able to detect subtle changes in facial shapes that occur when a person displays an emotion. The effect was reportedly strongest when the person in the image showed a negative emotion. For instance, 3D technology allowed participants to better see certain wrinkles that often come about when someone is angry.

This research should have major implications on the development of 3D media. With the understanding that viewers will be able to better detect emotions on 3D platforms, programmers will most likely use this to their advantage.

Allowing viewers to hone in on the emotions of the characters will definitely allow for a more intense and moving viewing experience. It is expected that this will spur the development of more content that strongly plays on emotions, such as intense dramas and horrors.

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