SFU graduate student Denise Quesnel studies how virtual reality (VR) environments can create profound emotional shifts. She is presenting her research, underway in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology's iSpace Lab, at TEDxSFU .


Virtual Reality prompts human connections through awe—TEDxSFU

November 10, 2017

Imagine seeing Earth from space, or actually walking in another’s shoes and sharing those perspectives —both are profound experiences that can inspire awe. They are also now made possible by using immersive Virtual Reality (VR). SFU researchers are studying whether interactive VR content and interfaces can illicit such emotions, and are exploring VR’s potential beyond gaming to include social and wellness applications. 

Initial studies carried out in SFU’s iSpace Lab show that participants feel a sense of awe when touring the planet in Google Earth VR. Nearly 80 per cent reported awe while almost half experienced ‘frisson’—chills and a physical goosebump reaction to awe-inspiring events. Many also felt a strong social connection during the VR experience. Follow-up studies show that the immersive VR medium may be a powerful communication tool with transformative potential. 

Denise Quesnel, a graduate student in SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), will share how VR content and systems can facilitate understanding and increase connectivity between individuals, when she presents at TEDxSFU on Sunday, Nov. 12. 

About a dozen presenters will share their insights on the question, "what has been the most significant shift in your life?"

Quesnel will elaborate on how VR can produce profound, emotional shifts, including awe and wonder—and how this can be applied in positive ways, for wellness and social interconnectivity. 

Quesnel’s research focuses on immersive realities, specifically the creation and design of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) content and interfaces for these profound emotional shifts.

“We hope to move past VR’s reputation as a gaming environment, and show that there is so much more possible," says Quesnel, a PhD student in SFU’s iSpace Lab, directed by professor Bernhard Riecke. 

Riecke gave a talk at TEDxEastVan earlier this fall, titled Could Virtual Reality Make Us More Human? He says VR is becoming increasingly accessible and affordable, and offers a unique opportunity to provide first-hand and embodied experiences.

“Our research focuses on how we might use this potential to go beyond entertainment and gaming to create positive or even transformational experiences we might otherwise not be able to have,” he says.

Other questions include how to democratize the medium, and put the unprecedented potential of such technology into the creative hands of more people, which includes teaching courses on immersive environments at SFU-SIAT and mentoring graduate students. 

Quesnel spent more than a decade in the film and VFX industry, and in 2015 launched the VR/AR program VR Village, which has become one of the most popular immersive programs globally.

A volunteer creator/chair at the SIGGRAPH VR Village, where she experienced nearly 1,000 VR installations over three years, she also mentors students, artists and practitioners. 

Funding for the iSpace Lab study is from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).