#VirtualReality #VR – Are Virtual Reality Headsets Safe for Kids? : Virtual-reality headsets are likely to be at the top of many kids’ wish lists this holiday season, but with many VR devices coming with age restrictions, is the technology safe for youngsters?
The Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR headsets are recommended for ages 13+, while Sony’s recommendation for its PlayStation VR is ages 12 and up. HTC’s Vive is not designed for children, according to the company, and HTC said young children shouldn’t be allowed to use the headset at all. And Google said its relatively low-tech Cardboard headset should be used by kids only under adult supervision.
Companies have offered little explanation for these age recommendations. So what does the science say? According to Marientina Gotsis, director of the Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, not a lot.
“We do not have enough data on the safety of current VR technology for children,” she told Live Science. “So, the sparsity of research data and what we know about neuroplasticity [the brain’s ability to reorganize itself] and children does not make me comfortable to recommend what is available now as is.”
In a 2014 study in rats, researchers at the University of California found that the neurons in a brain region associated with spatial learning behaved completely differently in virtual environments compared to in real ones, with more than half of the neurons shutting down while in VR. What this means for humans is unclear, but the scientists said it highlighted the need for more research on the long-term effects of VR.
Gotsis said VR could have an even bigger impact on the developing brains of children. Her center uses entertainment technology, including VR, for mental and behavioral health research. She has worked on VR applications for children, but only in highly controlled situations.