Virtual reality affects children differently than adults


Immersive virtual reality disrupts the child’s default coordination strategy, EPFL scientists show, something that should be taken into account when developing virtual reality rehabilitation protocols for children.




While very little is known on the effects of immersive VR on adults, there is next to no knowledge on the impact of such systems on the sensorimotor abilities of young children.


In 2016 at EPFL’s Open House, EPFL graduate Jenifer Miehlbradt was showcasing her virtual reality setup to allow users to pilot drones using their torso. Users from the general public were invited to wear a VR headset, and movements of their torso would allow them to navigate through a series of obstacles in a virtual landscape.


“Adults had no problem using simple torso movements to fly through the virtual obstacles, but I noticed that children just couldn’t do it,” remembers Miehlbradt. “That’s when Silvestro asked me to come to his office.”


Silvestro Micera, Bertarelli Foundation Chair in Translational Neuroengineering, was Miehlbradt’s supervisor at the time. They realized that their virtual reality torso experiment may be revealing something about the way a child’s nervous system develops, and that no study in the literature had assessed the effect of virtual reality headsets on children. They embarked on a study of several years, in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Technology, involving 80 children between the ages of 6 and 10. The results are published today in Scientific Reports.


“This study confirms the potential of technology to understand motor control,” says Micera.

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