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Brains Aren't Fooled By Virtual Reality

March 12, 2015 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by Viatcheslav Wlassoff, PhD / Brain Blogger

The scenes and the environments in World of Warcraft games appear so real that, for a moment, you forget you are staring at the screen. Technology has advanced so much that we can not only recreate reality but also engage with it. But however real the virtual may seem, the brain knows the difference! According to the recently published findings, the neurons in the brain react differently when they perceive a virtual environment than when they are in the real world.

The GPS Cells in Our Brains

The clue to the brain's varied responses to different environments lies in the "GPS" or place cells. These neurons in the hippocampus create and control cognitive maps by taking input from the environment. They fire when a person is in a novel environment to create episodic memories that help us remember events (what) and place these events in their appropriate contexts of space (where) and time (when).

Place cells are critical for learning and memory. Incidentally, the hippocampus region is damaged in people with Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder or in those who have suffered strokes. Because their ability to learn and recall events, people, and objects is severely impaired, these people find it challenging to move about and around the world.

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