How does the brain react to virtual reality? Study by UCLA neuroscientists provides answers | Science Codex
UCLA neurophysicists have found that space-mapping neurons in the brain react differently to virtual reality than they do to real-world environments. Their findings could be significant for people who use virtual reality for gaming, military, commercial, scientific or other purposes.
“The pattern of activity in a brain region involved in spatial learning in the virtual world is completely different than when it processes activity in the real world,” said Mayank Mehta, a UCLA professor of physics, neurology and neurobiology in the UCLA College and the study’s senior author. “Since so many people are using virtual reality, it is important to understand why there are such big differences.”
The study was published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
The scientists were studying the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. The hippocampus also plays an important role in forming new memories and creating mental maps of space. For example, when a person explores a room, hippocampal neurons become selectively active, providing a “cognitive map” of the environment.
The mechanisms by which the brain makes those cognitive maps remains a mystery, but neuroscientists have surmised that the hippocampus computes distances between the subject and surrounding landmarks, such as buildings and mountains. But in a real maze, other cues, such as smells and sounds, can also help the brain determine spaces and distances.
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