Me, Meet Virtual Me

Backchannel / February 20, 2015 /

You’re standing completely still in what you know is a nearly empty room, with an awkward headset covering your eyes and pressing down on your forehead. In front of you: an animated version of yourself. You lift one arm and the other-you lifts its arm. You turn your head and other-you does the same. It seems like a party trick at first, a simple source of entertainment, this other-you. But the longer the illusion continues, the more you start to forget that it’s an illusion at all. You become that bit-coded hominoid. If a hand reaches out and pokes other-you, you’ll swear you feel it on your arm.

“Two minutes of simulation can override an entire lifelong experience when it comes to what your body is and where it is,” says neurologist Olaf Blanke of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

What happens next, as you’re immersed in a virtual reality, could change your behavior for hours, days or even months to come. Researchers like Blanke have started to pull back the curtain on how the brain responds to simulated realities, and they’re finding that taking off the headset, or flicking off a screen, doesn’t end the effects of the technology.

Watching an avatar of yourself exercise makes you more confident in your ability to work out — and more likely to exercise in the days to come. Likewise, watching your own avatar comfort a child lifts your mood, seeing your avatar quickly gain weight after overeating can temper your appetite, and meeting an old-you avatar can inspire you to save more money for the future… Read more at