If watching TV and social media turns us into couch potatoes, could augmented reality provide a stimulus beneficial to our own mental health?
Evi Meyer, CEO at uMake, thinks understanding how our brains work is an important part of building the next generation of augmented experiences.
By enhancing “reality” with digital experiences that truly engage our individual software we can avoid becoming passive zombies, he maintains.
“Creators craft content that, in most cases, stimulates and strengthens their own brains, but their consumers are mostly wasting time staring at screens, and that’s a development that has long-term consequences for brain performance.”
Meyer cites a 2018 research project by Neuro-Insight UK that used Steady State Topography brain-imaging technology to measure how the brain responds to AR. It found that AR experiences delivered almost double the levels of engagement compared to their non-AR equivalents. This, says Meyer, is a clear sign of AR’s ability to generate a more powerful response than equivalent “non-AR” experiences.
The same study found that the part of the brain responsible for memory encoding sees almost three times the level of activity while experiencing the AR version of an activity compared to the non-AR version. This could mean that AR can be a powerful way to deliver information for long-term retention.
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Two properties of augmented reality experiences in particular can stimulate the brain: participation and connection.
The transition from observer to participant is a key element in any experience. “In most digital experiences, we’re mostly just passive observers and not active participants,” Meyer says. “Active participants play key roles in creating the experience. In Augmented Reality, you are the experience, or at least in the center of the experience.”
Another important dimension of AR is connection meaning an experience where both creator and viewer are immersed — “where both see, hear, and maybe even feel the experience together. Perhaps, in such a future, our attention span might last more than 15 seconds as we find ourselves immersed and invested in more meaningful and memorable experiences.”
These physiological reactions should matter to educators, content creators and advertisers, he says. Take advertising: today despite the best efforts of brand agencies creating experiential marketing campaigns, we are mostly absorbers of advertising.
“It’s rare to see an advertisement that truly has an impact, one that creates memories,” says Meyer, arguing that, with AR, advertisers have a chance to greatly increase their chances of selling, or at least creating, lasting brand awareness.
“Forget about popups and imagine what ads might be like if they were mini-games or short stories where you’re at the center of the experience.”
Advertiser are increasingly able to take advantage of personalized address-specific technology and the economies of scale to tailor interactive advertising. In one recent campaign for Lexus the user was able to personalize a car, learn more about its elements, and save and share it online.”
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He suggests that social media influencers or content creators can use AR to enhance their presence by for example participating in live virtual events such as music concerts on platforms like Fortnite. He suggests this is not only open to stars with existing recognition like Beyonce but anyone.
“Augmented reality holds within itself an exciting future, one that has the potential to truly transform humanity, just as print, TV and the Internet did in the past. In the near future, the question we’ll ask won’t be whether something is real or ‘augmented,’ but rather, whether a thing is meaningful: is that thing you just experienced meaningful enough to be remembered?”
I’m not wholly on board with his argument. There’s many a great piece of art — a concert, a feature film, a still photograph, a painting, live theatre — which stimulates the mind and the soul through the senses. It is the art and craft of the creator to evoke an emotional response in the observer. There’s every reason to suppose such stimulation will happen with great AR too but it would be unwise to suggest that because it’s a technologically different medium everything produced with it will be great.