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An Indispensable Training Tool

Suspension of Disbelief

Blending Artificial and Human Intelligence

Computer-based simulations are a well-established feature of training programs in a wide range of professional fields, including aviation, medicine, military, and health and safety. Studies show that simulations are more effective than other instructional methods, because they simultaneously engage trainees’ emotional and cognitive processes.(1)

Advances in hardware technologies have enabled a new wave of virtual reality devices to hit the market. These devices have the capability to significantly impact aspects of society. For an excellent overview of VR and applications.(2) These new hardware and software technologies make it possible to conduct simulations using avatars and virtual reality environments.

Mursion develops virtual-reality simulations, custom content, and avatars that resemble the real people that a professional is likely to encounter on the job.

Research confirms that virtual avatars can be powerful motivators to change human behavior.(3) Mursion’s proprietary technology provides compelling simulations that focus on the complex interpersonal skills that professionals must master to be successful in high-stress careers. Using avatars to challenge trainees to interact with their colleagues, customers, students or patients to the highest standards of their profession. Mursion's approach is firmly grounded in research.

Research shows that the brain prefers to interact with avatars that are more “human-like” in their visual appearance, movements, and voice patterns, suggesting that avatars inhabited by humans are more powerful tools for learning than are computer-scripted avatars. “The human likeness, naturalness of movement and emotions expressed and evoked by a virtual character … are important factors influencing their perception. These and other social factors become particularly relevant when avatars … interact with humans."(1)

However, there is a limit to how “human-like” avatars can appear to be and still appeal to the brain. To become “too human” is to enter what researchers call the “uncanny valley,” where avatars provoke an eery sense of revulsion.(2) Mursion’s avatar development team works to build avatars that are human-like in voice, motion, and appearance but not so human-like as to be eery. When the visual appearance, voice, and gestures of a virtual avatar are properly integrated, trainees experience a sense of “presence” in the virtual world or what some might call “the suspension of disbelief,” wherein the human brain thinks of the virtual avatar as another human.(3)(4)

When trainees experience this sense of “presence” in the virtual environment, the avatars in the simulation trigger the same emotional responses that humans would trigger in the real world. For example, when offering a gift to a virtual character, participants feel the same sense of satisfaction that a real person would, were such a gift offered in real life.(5) When humans trigger an emotional response in well-rendered avatars (e.g., “appreciation” or “embarrassment”), the emotion on the avatar’s face evokes the same muscle responses—called mimicry—in humans. This muscular mimicry occurs in real life as well.(6)

Avatars that are driven by software scripts (so-called artificial intelligence) cannot produce these sorts of emotional responses. Artificial intelligence is simply not sufficiently mature as a technology to mimic human nuances, voice, vocabulary, and gestures. Research has confirmed that human-operated simulations using virtual avatars are far more powerful than computer-generated simulations. Mursion deploys live simulation specialists using highly trained human interactors to operate its virtual reality simulations. Research confirms that this is the most powerful model for simulating authentic interpersonal exchanges.(1)

Mursion's technology combines the reasoning capability of human intelligence with the appropriate components of artificial intelligence to create compelling and plausible simulation events that produce a high degree of suspension of disbelief in the trainee. When the trainee truly “suspends disbelief,” he or she subconsciously expresses authentic feelings and beliefs that enable to us to measure their interpersonal strengths and weaknesses.

When avatars are properly blended with human interactors, it is possible to induce very powerful behavioral and emotional responses. Humans actually become empathetic to the conditions of the avatar. Work by Slater, Sanchez-Vives, and others on virtual embodiment showed that interacting with virtual characters in virtual reality gives rise to specific character-dependent changes in behavior, ranging from pain perception to implicit racial bias.(2)(3)(4) These results indicate that virtual reality stimuli can be utilized to imitate complex social situations.(5)

Mursion believes that a new era is emerging in which any individual can rehearse, practice and perfect the manner in which individuals interact with others on the job. Mursion intends to revolutionize the training around “soft-skills” in the same way that flight simulator revolutionized the training of airline pilots.

  • 1 - Tennyson, R. D., & Jorezak, R. L. (2008). A conceptual framework for the empirical study of instructional grams. In H. F. O’Neil & R. S. Perez (Eds.), Computer games and team and individual learning (pp. 3-20). Oxford UK: Elseview
  • 2 - Blascovich, J., & Bailenson, J. N. (2011). Infinite reality: Avatars, eternal life, new worlds and the dawn of the virtual revolution. New York, NY: William Morrow.
  • 3 - Blackman, C. “Can avatars change the way we think and act?” Stanford Report.
  • 1 - De Borst, A. W., & De Gelder, B. (2015). Is it the real deal? Perception of virtual characters versus humans: An affective cognitive neuroscience perspective. Frontiers in Psychology. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00576
  • 2 - Mori, M. (1970). The uncanny valley. Energy, 7(4), 33-35.
  • 3 - Slater, M., Khanna P., Mortensen, J., & Yu, I. (2009). Visual realism enhances realistic response in an immersive virtual environment. IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, 29, 76-84
  • 4 - Slater, M., Spanlang B., Sanchez-Vives M., & Blanke O. (2010) First person experience of body transfer in virtual reality. PLoS ONE, 5(5) doi:10510.11371/journal.pone. 0010564
  • 5 - Zucker, N.L., Green, S., Morris, J.P., Kragel, P, Pelphrey, K.A., Bulik, C.M., & LaBar, KS (2011). Hemodynamic signals of mixed messages during a social exchange. Neuroreport, 22(9),413-418.
  • 6 - De Borst, A. W., & De Gelder, B. (2015). Is it the real deal? Perception of virtual characters versus humans: An affective cognitive neuroscience perspective. Frontiers in Psychology. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00576
  • 1 - Fox, J., Ahn, S. J. G., Janssen, J. H., Yeykelis, L., Segovia, K. Y., & Bailenson, J. N. (2015) Avatars versus agents: a meta-analysis quantifying the effect of agency on social influence. Human-Computer Interaction, 30(5) , 401-432.
  • 2 - Banakou, D., Groten, R., & Slater, M. (2013). Illusory ownership of a virtual child body causes overestimation of object sizes and implicit attitude changes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of Americam 110(31)., 12846-12851.
  • 3 - Llobera, J., Sanchez-Vives, & M.V., Slater, M. (2013). The relationship between virtual body ownership and temperature sensitivity. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 10(85),20130300.
  • 4 - Martini, M., Perez-Marcos, D., & Sanchez-Vives, M.V., (2014). Modulation of pain threshold by virtual body ownership. European Journal of Pain, 18(7),1040-1048.
  • 5 - De Borst, A. W., & de Gelder, B. (2015) Is it the real deal? Perception of virtual characters versus humans: An affective cognitive neuroscience perspective. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.hij.gov