In Brief: Gender Responses to Virtual Reality Simulations

By Norman Chan

Fascinating research about the potential differences between how individuals process virtual reality cues.

While the internet has a laugh over the White Guys Wearing Oculus Rifts Tumblr, there's some genuine discussion about the potential differences in the way that biological factors may affect a person's experience of virtual reality. To put it bluntly, there's the possibility that women may not be as responsive to current virtual reality tech as men. Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft Research and Assistant Professor at New York University, recently shared the results of a 2000 study she conducted about the how individuals respond to the 2D cues that virtual reality systems use to simulate 3D space. Boyd, who had poor experience with her university's CAVE system, found that biological men were more likely to prioritize one type of VR cue--motion parallax--than women, who were more susceptible to shape-from-shading as a spatial cue. VR tech relies heavily on motion parallax, which could broadly explain why Boyd other female research subjects were getting disoriented more easily in her tests. The results aren't by any means conclusive about gender differences in VR use, but Boyd's point is that more research should be conducted by companies like Oculus so that they can take these factors into consideration.