Technologies of Virtual Reality in Psychology of Sports of Great Advance: Theory, Practice and Perspectives.
The article is devoted to the problem of using a new experimental technology of “virtual reality” (VR) in psychological research. Methods of virtual reality actively become embedded in tooling of up-to-date experimental psychology. Next in turn there is a task of embedding of VR technologies in various areas of applied psychology like sport psychology. Application of modern computer methods discovers new perspectives for sport psychology.
Keywords: virtual reality, experimental technology, computer methods, sports psychology, psychophysiology
1.Technologies of “virtual reality” in sports of great advances: theoretical basics and methodological problems
1.1Construction of “virtual environments” as a new technology in experimental psychology and sports psychology
Now a rise has seen in using a new experimental technology of “virtual reality” (VR) in psychological research. High performance of using this technology in theory and practice proves to be true by the data of medicine, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology and social psychology.
The methods of a virtual reality enrich tooling of experimental psychology by the methods having a row of differences from classical laboratory methods (Yee, 2007; Ducheneaut et al., 2006; Khan et al., 2003; Morganti et al., 2003; Optale et al., 2001). In the work by Zinchenko et al. (2010) the most important of these differences, on which a row of significant advantages of methods VR over traditional methods of experimental and applied psychology is based, explicitly are discussed. We will mark out some of them, which concern using VR methods in sports psychology.
The basic advantage of VR methods with reference to problems of sports psychology is a possibility for a sportsman of function in the space of virtual environment. It allows him/her to use not only static, but also dynamic visual features and also the movements of his/her own body for decision making during the performance of any motorial task. This property radically distinguishes the VR procedure from classical experiments, in which very oft en a subject carries out a task, being in a static position.
A unique feature of virtual reality methods is that it is highly ecologically valid with respect to the problems facing psychology of sports. Indeed, one of the important problems in sports psychology is the degree of correspondence of methods of psychological research to the content and forms of real activity of a sportsman. So far this problem has been complex without any unique solution. Conventional methods to assess sportsmen’s psychological state (questionnaires, tests) are not always valid because measured psychological characteristics can be unconscious and depend on a variety of social factors including expert personality (Naisser, 1981; Rock, 1995). These methods also are inadequate to assess of such concepts as “practical intellect” and “emotional intellect”, which determine an intellect both as an ability for problem solution and also as an ability to perceive behaviour and emotions of other people. Their testing demands a new stimulus environment, which is similar to the natural environment. There should be a complicated, varying in a time and space row of the visual scenes “provoking” natural behaviour of a sportsman by means of virtual environment, and by its design close to the real environment.
An extremely important advantage of VR in experimental psychology and, especially, in sports psychology is a possibility to introduce the time factor - “time arrow” into the psychological experiment and training procedure of a sportsman. The individual time scale filled with experiences of “past”, “present” and “future” is one of the backbones of “psychological fundamentals” of real purposeful behaviour. In sports psychology the transition from laboratory stimulus (test) paradigm to the research of mental processes and states of an active individual in time and dynamics, is a step forward in development of not only methodical, but also methodological baseline of this important area of modern branch of applied psychology.
The virtual reality methods differ from classical procedures also in way that they allow complete control over attention of a sportsman. In virtual environments the presentation of bright dynamic three-dimensional stimuli and on-line response registration have become possible which allows to study sportsman’s attention distribution and concentration in the conditions of VR, which are similar to the real environment where competition is held.
It is necessary to note flexibility and plasticity of VR technologies. In VR there is a possibility to simulate different situations of athletic competitions and to show a diversity of stimuli (both motionless and movable) with controllable parameters (luminance, color, the form, driving, etc.). In addition, in VR the stimulus structure and stimulus tuning in regard with sportsman’s response is programmed. It is important to emphasize that the notion of “flexibility” includes a possibility to create not only “close to the real world” environments, but also unreal (“imaginary”) arrangements with unusual properties of virtual objects. Such kind of media provide an opportunity to expand sportsmen’s representations about his/her capacities, and more fully assess the conditions for genuine competition.
One more specific advantage of VR systems is a possibility to select stimuli, which are crucial for a sportsman’s activity. In experimental psychology there are different means of drawing the subject’s attention to various key-stimuli, which accelerates the process of solving the problem. In programmed VR it is possible to embed some special means of visual “reinforcement” of key-stimuli into exposure scenario, namely to increase the frequency of their occurrence or their luminance, or to color them in hue tone, which attracts a sportsman. It is possible to use not only sensory characteristics of stimulation, but also social factors: for example, to insert into a virtual medium the stimuli evoking in a sportsman the strong emotional responses (portraits of the relatives and friends, or the objects associated with pleasant memories).
One of the important advantages of using VR in sports psychology is a possibility of selective isolation critical to a sportsman’s stimulation. Rapid computer systems can calculate and give out an integral visual image in several milliseconds which allows installing program to sweep interactive communication of a sportsman with a virtual medium. An example of on-line feedback application is the systems which handles the outer objects (instruments) with the help of an “eye look”. Those systems are useful, for example, as the additional interaction channel with VR of a subject. Similar systems for fixing partner’s look direction are applicable at the organization of computer videoconferences (Velichkovsky, 2007; Velichkovsky & Hanssen, 1998). Such technologies are called “attentive to attention” (Velichkovsky, 2003, 2007). Embedding of feedback systems into VR allows research of nonverbal communication at a new level, which is based on “eye contact”, synchronization of micromotions of a head and an eye, signals about the beginning of the dialogue. Similar systems which register eye movements in VR also allow research of “personal space” violation and defending between subjects of a conversation. Development of VR with elements of the feedback can be an effective tool for training interaction between sportsmen in team sports.
Unlike classical methods of experimental psychology the VR methods open an opportunity of building of polymodal stimulation. Sense of a physical reality is constructed on the basis of the basic sensations such as vision, touch, audition, sense of smell, etc. VR systems allow imitating simultaneously visual, tactile, and acoustical and, in the near future, an olfactory signals (Riva, 2006) that is hardly accessible in the traditional paradigm of experimental psychology and that increases “truthfulness” of virtual environments, i.e. their closeness to natural reality. Such advantages allow us to research the value of interaction between basic sensory systems in different sports (for example, studying the role of interaction between kinesthetic and visual sensations in conditions where visual signals are delaying) more qualitatively. Moreover, the above specified advantage allows solving a number of problems in training and rehabilitation of sportsmen. Thus, possibility to create the multimodal stimulation in VR, completely submerging a sportsman into interaction with a virtual medium, allows much more effective modeling of various forms of athletic activity for the purpose to developing required psychological and psychophysiological skills in a sportsman.
1.2 The problems experimental psychology and psychology of sport are faced with using technologies of the virtual reality
VR application methods does not only help to solve some ”old problems”, but it also raises new ones, which demand special methodological consideration. One of them is the problem of development of a new conceptual apparatus which emerges when using VR in experiments and, first of all, concerning such key concepts, as “virtual world” and “virtual consciousness”. These terms are already used in psychology in other context, namely, in connection with research of “altered (unusual) states of consciousness” (Rossokhin, 1998). It refers, for example, to works of postmodernist cultural science (Rudnev, 2000, 2001). According to these works “any reality is virtual”. Without doubt it is really so if reality is deemed as a psychotic or schizophrenic paranoiac delirium, narcotic or alcoholic intoxication, a hypnotic state, a modification of perception of the world under the influence of a narcosis. Perception of virtual reality originate also in human being with normal psyche: in pilots at supersonic speed of a jet plane, in prisoners (“cinema of prisoners”), in submariners, in the people under stress (e.g., in air or car accidents); in human with phobias; and in general practically in everyone who is somehow violently isolated in the space or travelling for a long time. A sanguine person has one reality, an aggressive human with epilepsy percepts another one, for a defensive psychostenic person it is the third reality, a schizoid autistic is in the fourth type of reality (, http://rudnev-vadim.viv. ru/cont/slowar/24.html, <http://rudnev-vadim.viv.ru/cont/slowar/23. html>). Virtual reality continuum and transitions from “virtual reality” to “natural reality” and back are in detail described by N.A. Nosov (1997, 2000). N.B. Man’kovskaya and V.V. Bychkov (2007) name this phenomenon as “natural virtuality” and distinguish it from “art as virtual reality”, and also from “a paravirtual reality” (psychedelic art) and from “a protovirtual reality”, created by means of computer programs and applied in cinema as so-called “special effects” (Ignatiev et al., 2009; Voyskunskiy, 2001).
Along with the problem of VR definition, experimental psychology as a whole and psychology of sports in particular are faced with the problem of classifying forms (ways) of immersion of the subject (an athlete) in the virtual world. The Russian psyhophysiologist V.B. Dorokhov (2006) Along with the problem of VR definition, experimental psychology as a whole and psychology of sports in particular are faced with the problem of classifying forms (ways) of immersion of the subject (an athlete) in the virtual world. The Russian psyhophysiologist V.B. Dorokhov (2006) argued the psychophysiological aspects of this problem: “Immersiveness means that the subject is entrained in the world of a virtual reality, perceives him/her and visual objects as a part of that world. Three forms of an immersion are possible: ‘direct’, ‘mediated’ and ‘mirrored’ when the subject, accordingly, perceives him/her as a part of the virtual world, sees him/her or part his/her body in the virtual world or feels the virtual world and him/her as if in a mirror”. Apparently, given judgment should be recognized as valid even if VR practice discovers new means of VR immersion.
One more problem which raises in connection with using VR in psychology of sports is the problems of efficiency of representation of sport situations in VR, i.e. defining the minimum set of features, which is necessary and sufficient for a sportsman to identify the object and to consider it to be a part of reality (Reddy et al., 1997). The solution of this problem is intimately connected with the solution of another important problem, namely problem of development of methods for psychophysical measurements of “virtual attributes” in order to organize targeted impact on a sportsman’s by VR and an objective assessment of such impacts (Meehan et al., 2002; Whitton, 2003).
2. Possible means of VR methods usage in sport psychology
2.1 Using VR for sportsmen’s cognitive processes research and training
It is well-known that achieve a success in professional sports some cognitive factors are of great value: strategies for distribution of forces during competition, understanding short-term plans of the opponent, adequate assessment of parameters of the environment of “sport stress”, etc. The basis of these problems lies in psychological decision-making processes which work in stressful situations. Knowing the regularities of these processes, and also the peculiarities of their functioning in a certain kind of sports will allow solving many tasks of sports psychology, and in particular, the problems of improving the effectiveness of sportsmen training. For the solution of the applied tasks it is necessary to solve, at the first stage, a number of fundamental problems of visual perception by means of VR. One of the fundamental problems is the problem of using various visual features in the environment of virtual reality. For example, in a number of works the constancy of visual perception, and in particular constancy of motion velocity (Distler et al., 2000). It has been shown that the constancy is characterized by sensory parameters (spatial structure of moving object) as well as cognitive ones (knowledge of properties of a moving object). The problem of distance perception in VR was researched in other studies, namely phenomenon of systematic overestimation of the “virtual distance” in VR. In the virtual environment, programmed maximally precisely in correspondence with natural reality, it was not possible to compensate this revaluation (Thompson et al., 2004). However, constructing VR (Messing & Durgin, 2005) with the changed visible position of the skyline has allowed to completely offset the error of distance assessment in virtual space. VR-systems were also used for research of depth perception. Virtual situations in which virtual objects possessed various visual features were constructed. Those situations allowed to study the role of different visual features in perception (Gaggioli & Breining, 2001). Research of stereoscopic and monocular visual features affecting depth perception has shown that binocular attributes are more effective in assessing the cavities and recesses whereas monocular features (shades, reflections) are more important to assess the depth of convex objects.
VR technologies can be used for studying gender differences in space orientation of sportsmen. The problem of gender differences within space mapping has been researched in experiments with male and female subjects placed in a complex virtual maze (Cutmore et al., 2000; Kober & Neuper, 2010). In the work by Cutmore et al. (2000) authors studied activity/ passivity, gender differences, and also cognitive styles in a task of successful passing through a maze. It has been shown that for female and male the styles of space orientation in a maze are well discriminated on the basis of the strategy of using outstanding points of locality: women are mainly oriented to appreciable visible objects whereas men consider both appreciable objects, and geometry of the spatial representations of the terrain.
By means of VR it is possible to research distribution of sportsman’s attention in intricately organized media. For example, the task of attention distribution has been solved for the three-dimensional stage filled by close and far situated objects (Maringelli et al., 2001). The verbal evaluation of these objects was carried out in two different experimental situations. In the first one the observer was beholding his/her virtual body and virtual arms, but in the second one the body and arms were not observed. It has been shown that in these two situations attention distribution was different. When an observer saw his/her virtual body and arms, his/her attention was focused on the close objects. The attention was reallocated on more distant objects if an observer did not see any part of his/her virtual body.
2.2 A promising direction of VR application
A promising direction of VR application in sports psychology is study, diagnostics and training of communication processes (in such team sports as football). The up-to-date researches in the field of psychology of communication using VR methods are devoted to interaction features in a virtual space of a person with three-dimensional humanlike “avatars” or “computer agents”. In a number of works (Bailenson et al., 2003; Krikorian et al., 2000) distributions of personal space between “amicable” and “alien” avatars were researched. It has been shown that for the admission of “alien avatar” to a private space of “amicable avatar” gender differences and sight directions of both avatars are of great value. As such features are characteristic for everyday conversation between people, it is possible to use VR methods for training various aspects of verbal and nonverbal communication.
For sports psychology such area of social psychology as “psychology of manipulative influence” is very important (for example, to influence a sportsman of the opponent team). Numerous examples of such kind of influence are analyzed in the work by B. Fogga (2003) and in the works of so-called “captology” (originates from: “computer as persuading technology”, or “the computer as a convincing technology”). “Captology” is defined as a science about organization of the purposeful and planned impact on behaviour as a whole or on the relations of users of computer systems in particular. It is proposed that such affecting techniques should not be based on lying or malevolence. Unfortunately, there are only a few works devoted to the captology and realized by means of VR. In one of them (Bailenson & Yee, 2005) affect on an observer was studied via avatar’s movements. During the experiment an avatar was pronouncing a three-minute written text (an appeal to students to have on them the documents while being in the university building) and realized some movements (nonverbal behaviour) that have been programmed in two various modes. In one mode its head movements repeated continuously registered micromovements of an observer’s head with a 4-second delay (such delay factor has been inferred empirically as the most effective). In another mode the nonverbal behaviour of an avatar was not correlated with micromotions of an observer. It appeared that subjects expressed agreement with the avatar more oft en and their evaluation of the avatar was higher in those cases when the avatar’s nonverbal behavioural patterns matched their own motor behavioural patterns. The effect has been named as “digital chameleon” (Bailenson & Yee, 2005). The similar phenomenon can be used in various virtual training sessions where the trainer, the sport psychologist, the team captain and/or colleagues on sport can appear in the role of an avatar.
The speculative experiments presented in a fiction are capable to offer specialists perspective directions of work in the area of using VR methods for the organization of manipulative influence on a sportsman. So, in the book by V. Pelevin “The Horror Helmet” (2005) possible methods of manipulative affect on a person immersed in VR are described. Virtual reality is supposed to be a small area with three equal mottled vases, and the task consists in bringing the person to one of them. V. Pelevin gives the following bright descriptions of possible (imaginary) methods of affecting a person in this situation.
- “The Sticky Eye”. At head rotational displacements one of vases looks as if hung in the visual field and remains there for longer, than it would be out of virtual reality.
- “Weight” (the “mathematical weight”). When a person tries to get away from a targeted vase, the programme slows down its movement, but when approaching it, it accelerates it.
- “Pavlov’s Bitch”. When looking at “unnecessary” vase it starts to ruffle in the eyes, there an unpleasant rumble emerges in ears, it knaps a current or the infra sound acts, and the person starts to feel a gloomy mystical horror before all vases except the necessary. The inverse manipulations should stimulate “pleasure centers” in the brain when choosing the “necessary” vase.
- “The Solar Kiss”. On the “necessary” vase the solar ray drops, or a pleasure melody, pawing heart when the vase comes into the view, sounds. While looking at other vases the sun leaves for clouds, the grey fog is tapped off, unpleasant notes sound.
- “The Seventh Seal”. The vase which should be chosen reveals mysterious signs which promote the subject’s interest. Sometimes the vases are covered with sneer words, and this method is called Le Pen Club.
2.3 Psychology of the influence on the sportsman’s moods.
The example of using VR methods for systematic manipulations when the mood of an observer is presented in the work by Р. Banos et al. (2006). Authors have tried to develop the virtual media promoting creation in a person of concrete emotional states, or moods: grief, happiness, alarm, or relaxation. For this purpose 110 subjects at the age of 18-49 years were offered to walk alone in the virtual park and to inspect virtual objects – trees, pavilions and benches. To create a certain mood the researchers used the following parameters of influence: luminance of irradiating light, music, a short emotionally colored text (voiced by a female in ear-phones) and so on. In preliminary experiments the tasks provoking each emotional state were selected. The subjects answered the questions of the psychological questionnaire designed for diagnosing the emotional states before and after “a virtual walk”. The findings of this research with high degree of reliance have shown that the mood of subjects really varied in correspondence with induced emotion and became “sad” or “joyful”. In other research by Riva et al. (2007) the possibility of creating psychological states of “anxiety” or “relaxation” were demonstrated. As a result, the following conclusion was formulated: the emotional state of a subject influences the origin of the “presence effect” in VR (= “truthfulness of VR”) more strongly than technological parameters of virtual environment (for example, degree of realism of virtual objects). Despite common interest in diagnostics and forming of emotional states by means of VR (Riva, 2006), the works devoted to this theme are practically absent. However, sports psychology is one of the most attractive experimental areas for developing and testing of VR technologies for purposeful impact on the sportsman’s emotional state.
2.4 Specific properties of team sports activity in virtual reality
Psychology of communication and understanding, creation of mood and manipulative affect border on another very important psychological task very closely – the task of social-psychological study of specific properties of team sports activity in VR that oft en is characterized as phenomenon of “co-presence” (Nowak & Biocca, 2003; Zhao, 2003). One of possible “virtual models” for analysis of interaction in a team is the model of interaction of a person with avatars or objects similar to them (Bente, Eschenburg, & Kraemer, 2007). For example, in the work by Nowak and Rauh (2005) it has been shown that subjects prefer avatars that look like humans, gender and race of which coincide with the gender and race of the tested person. In the research by Zhang et al. (2006) there was analyzed the interaction of subjects (they were offered the role of a teacher of a foreign language) with virtual student group presented on the computer screen. The members of the virtual student group showed different depth of knowledge and different extent of interest in a foreign language (differences were programmed beforehand). Possibilities of interaction with the virtual group were broad enough, as the members could move virtual animated objects in addition to verbal communication, contacting members of the virtual team using “eye-to-eye” technique, demonstrating pointing gestures to them, and doing all that in fairly realistic manner. The subjects were easily immersed in the VR and started to consider the members of the virtual group as the living people. Such kind of researches shows unique possibilities of VR methods for any kind of learning.
The special type of VR – so-called training VR-systems – are developed for sports training courses, in particular, simulating and playing off tactical aspects of competition. For example, at the Michigan State University virtual “cave-system” is developed (<http://www-rl.umich.edu/ project/football/index.html>) for training football players. By means of this programme it is possible to demonstrate different modes of players’ tactical position of both teams at a football field, to learn recognizing certain players and signals given by them, and also the signals given by the trainer, being outside of the field. Virtual environments for tennis and wrestling training courses have been created in the laboratory of Virtual Reality, Polytechnic Federal Institute of Ecology, Lausanne (Switzerland). This laboratory specializes on constructing avatars, developing their movements, and training sportsmen by means of on-line monitoring their movements (http://vrlab.epfl .ch).
2.5 Psychophysiology of sports and technologies of virtual reality
The researches linked to diagnostics and corrections of psychophysiological parameters of a sportsman – sports psychophysiology – are of great value for sports psychology as a whole. In VR-systems for different purposes, designation psychophysiology plays a leading role (Pugnetti et al, 2001; Parsons et al., 2009). Virtual environments available for such registration is widely used in psychophysiology indicators such as electrocardiogram, skin galvanic response (SGR), electromyogram, electroencephalogram, plethysmogram are registered without technical problems (Kim et al., 2001; Pugnetti et al., 2001; Wiederhold et al., 2002; Walshe et al., 2003; Cote & Bouchard, 2005; Wiederhold & Rizzo, 2005; Wilhelm et al., 2005; Astur et al., 2005; Mühlberger et al., 2007; Baumgartner et al., 2008). The tasks of psychophysiological support of VR procedures are as follows: 1) objective estimation of how “deep” a person has been immersed in the virtual world and adapted to a new reality, 2) an objective assessment of attention concentration efficiency of a person on certain “targets” for virtual affect (phobias, pain, learning processes). Having data available by this time, registration of an electroencephalogram and brain evoked potentials which allow differencing automated and consciousnessly controllable acts of a person in the conditions of VR. Activity indexes of autonomous nervous system (first of all, SGR) can be used as easily available objective parameters for measuring the “presence effect” and nature of VR impact on a patient (Kim et al, 2001; Cote & Bouchard, 2005). At present there is hardly any information in the reference literature that psychophysiological apparatus (sensing transducers, cables) can create serious problems for registering of physiological responses, or can evoke some uncomfortable feeling in a person and can reduce presence effect in VR (even if fMRI is used where the head of a person is fixed) (Bayliss & Ballard, 1998; Wiederhold & Rizzo, 2005).
2.6 The virtual reality as an effective tool for research interaction between cognitive processes and motor actions of a sportsman on the basis of the “active perception” approach: history and research project.
The advantages of VR technology mentioned above (Chapter 1) allow us to consider it as the important instrument for deriving new knowledge about subject’s abilities. Development and implementation of VR methods in psychological research practice is necessarily leads to the introduction of such important “ecological variable” as the “sportsman’s intrinsic motor activity” into laboratory experiment. This can lead to the conceptual revision of the commonly used ideas and theories (Gregory, 1970; Gibson, 1988; Poincare, 1990). Below we shall discuss some possibilities of using VR methods for studying agreement between cognitive processes and motor activity in processes of visual perception according to the “active perception” approach. This direction of psychological research is methodologically important for the development and experimental verification in sports psychology of such internationally acknowledged Russian psychological theories as “the activity theory” by A.N. Leont’ev (1975, 2000), “vector psychophysiology theory” by Е.Н. Sokolov (2003) and “functional systems theory” by P.K. Anokhin (Anokhin, 1968; Aleksandrov, 2011). On the one hand, Each of these theories offers its own approach to the high extent of agreement between sensory and cognitive processes, and, on the other hand, they refer to executive mechanisms of behaviour.
Researches carried out as part of the “active perception” approach are aimed at revealing the interaction of visual information and motor activity of the viewer in the process of solving cognitive problems. Solving such problems is especially true for some new areas of practical psychology appeared recently – such as safety, sport and transport psychology. New areas of knowledge contribute to the development of new theoretical and methodological solutions for the research of cognitive processes in conditions close to the natural ones. Ideas of close interaction of cognitive (perceiving, attention, thinking) and motor functions were developed in the works of such internationally recognized native psychologists and psychophysiologists as I.M. Sechenov, P.K. Anokhin, N.A. Bernshtein, A.V. Zaporozhets, A.N. Leont’ev. In their works the important role of the subject's motor activity in the process of forming an adequate visual image is being stressed (Leont’ev, 1975). One of the important principles underlying perception – the principle of assimilation of motor components of perception to the qualities of the extrinsic stimulus was formulated (Leont’ev, 2000). The problems implied by the activity approach are up-to-date for modern psychology. In psychology of sport the problem of training of effective agreement between cognitive processes and executive mechanisms is of great value for successful competitions. Throughout last decade, the researches of visual perception were going hand in hand with the study of agreement between sight and motorial acts of a subject. This approach was called “active vision”. According to this approach the human vision is deemed as a process actively used in planning and control of intrinsic acts of a subject. Nowadays interest in the research of interconnection of perception and motor acts has increased again in connection with a great number of the experimental data in the field of neurophysiology, cognitive neuroscience and psychophysics, which prove that sensory processes and actions (behaviour) are closely connected. Two methods of processing information in a human vision system that differ in their functions have been discovered. These methods are ventral (focal) and dorsal (ambient) (Schneider, 1969; Ungerleider & Mishkin, 1982; Smith, 2000; Nicholls et al., 2001; Norman, 2002). Information processing via the ventral method starts in retinas and – through lateral geniculate nuclei (LGN) – ends in primary visual cortex (V1) and temporal cerebral cortex. Information processing in the dorsal method firstly follows the same way as information processing via the ventral system (retina-LGN-V1) but then it does not stay in temporal but in occipital parietal brain lobes. Analysis of different functions of ventral and dorsal pathways allowed Milner and Goodale (1995) to build a model, in which they suggested dividing the vision system into two subsystems: the main function of the ventral subsystem is identification and recognition of objects, while the dorsal one is responsible for visual control of the viewer's movements in the process of interaction with the objects. According to the experiments showing differences of functions of ventral and dorsal systems it was supposed that the verbal answer presupposes being included in the process of perception of the ventral subsystem, while the motorial answer presupposes being included in the process of perception of the dorsal one. For example, neuropsychological researches of patients with parietal and medial temporal brain regions damaged (Milner & Goodale, 1995; James et al., 2002) have shown that such injury lead to different disturbances of visual perception. Problems with medial temporal region lead to visual ataxias when people have problems with exact movements in response to a visual stimulation. Problems with parietal region lead to agnosia when people have problems with recognizing objects or their parts but can quite accurately perform tasks connected with manipulating these “unidentified” objects, such as taking, re placing or pointing at them. Similar differences of functions of two streams have been gained and in psychophysical experiments (Bridgeman et al., 1981, 1997; Servos et al., 2000; Lee & van Donkelaar, 2002). The main methodological technique in psychophysical experiments which demonstrate the difference between ventral and dorsal systems was comparing the verbal judgment and motor response of a tested individual to one and the same visual stimulus. In many psychophysical experiments different visual illusions have been used. The main idea of these experiments was to illustrate the difference in perceiving different qualities of objects in verbal and motor responses of the viewer. It was assumed that a verbal answer suggests the use of the ventral subsystem and the motor one, the use of the dorsal subsystem and vice versa. Bridgeman and his colleagues (Bridgeman et al., 1981) used an illusion of induced movement. A fixed test stimulus surrounded by a moving frame was shown on the screen. The effect is that the viewer perceived illusory movement of the test stimulus in the direction opposite to the frame's movement. It was shown that the verbal evaluation of the movement direction was influenced by the illusionary effect within the eyes movement or the finger pointing at the stimulus corresponded the reality. It demonstrated the immobility of the test stimulus. Further researches by Bridgeman (Bridgeman et al., 1997) showed the difference between verbal and motor reactions in perception of the stimulus' location. During the experiment the tested individual had to evaluate verbally or by pointing with a finger the degree of stimulus shift at different shift s of the frame. One of the parameters was the time of delay (0 seconds, 4 seconds, 8 seconds) between the presentation of the stimulus and the moment when the person was asked to evaluate its position (verbally or by pointing a finger). It was assumed that a longer delay will lead to evaluation using memory, which means larger use of ventral subsystem in the process of perception. The experiment showed that, firstly, the verbal evaluation is prone to illusionary effect and the motor reaction is indifferent to it; secondly, increased delay of time for both verbal and motor reactions become prone to illusionary effect. These results have shown that the information processing time in dorsal system is limited. Similar results were received while studying size perception (Servos et al., 2002). The results showed that in verbal evaluation the vertical line was overestimated in size while motor reaction in the space between fingers accurately corresponded to the size of the line, no matter whether the person saw his/her hand or not. These researches carried out with the help of psychophysical and neuropsychological methods have shown that cognitive and motor activities are formed according to different principles and are realized through different physiological brain structures. It is worth mentioning that the division of information processing into two subsystems is quite conventional since a number of experiments have shown that some functions typical of the ventral system can be performed by the dorsal system and vice versa (Binsted et al., 2001; Franz et al., 2003). It is probable that ventral and dorsal systems functions are not strictly separated according to a rigid scheme “either ventral or dorsal”. Most likely the processes of the vision system cannot be independent and strictly fixed, they interact and complement each other. While creating the model of the vision system it is important to take into consideration one of its basic qualities such as plasticity, adaptability as it may seem in physiological functions to perform the task at hand. These problems demand further theoretical developments and experimental researches with using the new experimental VR technologies.
Investigations of interaction between visual perception and motor activity based on technology of virtual reality. New possibilities for research interaction between perception and motor activity are submitted by technologies of VR, which on the one hand, allow the subject to observe the virtual visual scenes, and, on the other hand, to freely move in real-like environment. Recently there have appeared several works (Chaudhury et al., 2004), in which interactions between ventral and dorsal systems are researched by means of VR methods. New methods allow broadening a sphere of scientific problems, and also activates search of new procedures, which allow to register behavioural, verbal and physiological responses in the complicated virtual environments. Today the Faculty of Psychology of Lomonosov Moscow State University is developing the methods based on a combination of classical procedures of the experimental psychology and modern VR methods. In the capacity of classical procedures in the experimental psychology such procedures are available as threshold measurements, short-term presentation of stimuli via tachistoscope, etc. were used. As a result decline of parameters of cognitive functions (a memory volume, perception and attention parameters) was observed. Traditionally for such researches stimulation was presented on a two-dimensional monitor screen, and a subject had to answer the questions like “Was there a stimulus or not?”, “Did two presented stimuli differ or not?” and so on. Unfortunately, the results of such kind of experiments do not allow predicting responses of a subject in real scenes because in real situations we deal with much more complicated scenes, in which it is required to solve diverse behavioural tasks. Such problems cannot entail simple answers like “there was a stimulus or not” but they perform certain acts coordinated with complicated cognitive tasks (for example, to remember certain virtual objects along the way of movement; to get round all virtual objects and to discover certain ones among them). It means that in addition to classical cognitive tasks to “identify something” the experimental situation includes concomitant important tasks on dimensional orientation, an abstractness of attention to no-purpose stimuli, forming of a cognitive map of an environment. Development of such procedures which make it possible to stimulate cognitive processes accompanied by motor activity is of high demand. For example, development of such areas of psychology as transport psychology and sport psychology demand innovative experimental procedures that include not only verbal assessments, but also to act in accordance with a goal set. Development of procedures of this kind becomes possible due to the appearance of the newest VR technologies, which allow not only to shape more realistic 3D objects, but also to give the chance to an examinee to be more flexible while solving an experimental task. Thereupon we offer the method to combine organization of stimulation with actions of a subject in VR mentioned hereafter. The subjects were instructed to perform a complicated cognitive task (for example, to remember virtual objects or to find a hidden object) while passing through the 3D-virtual maze, shown via “VR eMagin Z800 3D Visor” helmet. To make the conditions of passing through the virtual maze complicated it is possible to induce any stressful factors, which can increase the time of task fulfillment. For example, one can use such factors as “downfalls” or frightening virtual objects along the way of passing, turning on of unpleasant audible signals. To research the influence of movements of cognitive tasks performance it is necessary to consider two different experimental situations: (1) passive and (2) active passing through a maze. In a situation of passive passing (PP) a subject fulfills a task without any movements. In a situation of active passing (АP) the process of a task solution is accompanied by own motor activity. In this part of experiment it is possible to instruct a subject to fulfill motions, which match an executable task or, vice versa. In the latter case the examinee should overcome such “inconsistency” by forming of a corresponding visual-motor skill during trainings. While a subject passes through a virtual labyrinth the following behavioural and psychophysiological parameters can be fixed: the success of passing through a maze; time of passing through every room of the maze; a pattern of movements and actions; an electroencephalogram, a skin galvanic response, the electrocardiogram, a photoplethysmogram and amyogram. It is supposed that in PP situation cognitive processes of a subject (perception, memory, thinking) dominate over extremely reduced own motor activity. But in AP situation cognitive activity of a subject is supplemented with own motor activity in the form of purposeful motorial acts, and the extent of interaction between cognitive processes and motor activity of a examinee can be controlled by means of “miscoordination” of visual and motor components. Consequently, interaction between cognitive processes and motor acts can lead to an essential efficiency modification of a task solution. The suggested method allows to make multifactor psychological and psychophysiological experiments for researches into:
- interactions between cognitive processes (perception, memory, thinking) and behavioural acts;
- degree and forms of motor-cognitive cooperation on successful performance by a subject of various practical activities;
- specific features of brain activity and vegetative nervous system in the conditions of on-line purposeful behaviour.
The method mentioned above can appear to be effective for such areas of applied psychology as sport and transport psychology, human engineering and safety psychology.
Methods of virtual reality actively become embedded in tooling of up-to-date experimental psychology. Next in turn there is a task of embedding of VR technologies in various areas of applied psychology like sport psychology. Application of modern computer methods discovers new perspectives for sport psychology. Methods of VR possessing a high degree of “an ecological validity”, allow:
- to approximate as much as possible situations of training to requirements of real competitions;
- adequately to evaluate the extent of safety and training of cognitive abilities, attention, dimensional orientation and sensomotor coordination of a sportsman; Technologies of Virtual Reality in Psychology of Sport of Great Advances 147
- to shape skills of communication and interaction of sportsmen in team sports;
- to gain in necessary volume the information on dynamics of psychophysiological states of a sportsman and to forecast using this base the well-founded success of performances at forthcoming competitions.
One more area of using VR systems in sports is linked to promotional and exhibition activity: for example, popular shows without particular sport value with participation of the masterful chess players that compete with computer programs, observing a game field via VR glasses (without a real board and figures). It is possible to guess that many VR systems for training in sports will represent advanced simulators. Thereupon requirements and specific nature of skills acquisition and transfer can be borrowed from the accumulated experience and education of operators (however, it is not quite comprehensible, to what extent it is possible). VR technologies can be effectively used for research interaction between cognitive processes and motor performance of a sportsman in processes of visual perception within the framework named “active perception”. The interaction method developed in Lomonosov Moscow State University is based on a combination of modern VR methods and classical procedures of experimental psychology. Implementation of methods will allow to research interactions between cognitive processes and behavioural acts of a sportsman, to evaluate influences of motor-cognitive cooperation on success performance by a sportsman of various professional tasks, and also to study specific nature of his/her brain activity and vegetative nervous system in the conditions of online purposeful behaviour. Special importance, both in sports psychology and in VR systems, is given to psychophysiology. On the one hand, psychophysiological indexes allow objectivity in estimating the degree of immersion of a sportsman in the virtual world and his/her adaptability level. On the other hand, VR methods open up new opportunities for psychophysiology in the research of mutual relations between properties of the nervous system of a sportsman, and on the other hand, his/ her physical possibilities and mental features.
The virtual reality becomes a new effective research tool in experimental psychology. Analysis of virtual reality technologies proves to possess a variety of methodological features which distinguish them from the methods of traditional psychological laboratory experiment. Some features of VR methods may be considered as their “benefits” to the methods of classical experimental psychology, and others can be estimated as the new challenges that require special analysis, including methodological analysis. Such analysis, which promote upgrade of the categorizational system of psychological science, should be conducted on the ongoing basis.
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 The research was supported by the grant “Development of innovative methods for scientific, educational and practical activities of psychologist with application of virtual reality technologies” and the grant “Development of innovative technologies for psychological and psychophysiological supporting of professional sportsman” in the frame of the federal program “Scientific and scientific-pedagogical personnel of innovative Russia” for 2009-2013.