It turns out, augmented reality is capable of affecting people's behaviour, in both physical world and in a digitally enhanced one.
As part of the study, researchers found that after people had an experience in augmented reality (AR), simulated by wearing goggles that layer computer-generated content onto real-world environments, their interactions in their physical world changed. Even after their AR device was removed.
"We've discovered that using augmented reality technology can change where you walk, how you turn your head, how well you do on tasks, and how you connect socially with other physical people in the room," said Jeremy Bailenson, co-author of the paper published in the Journal of PLOS.
According to the findings, while VR attempts to simulate a real-life environment and take the user out of the present setting, AR technology layers digital information atop the user's physical surroundings.
"In recent years, many technology companies have focused on developing augmented reality goggles and other products, shifting away from their previous emphasis on virtual reality," Bailenson explained.
Researchers asserted that today's AR goggles can project a realistic, 3D version of an actual person in real time onto the physical surroundings of the goggles-wearer. This allows for groups of people across the world to make eye contact and communicate nonverbally in other nuanced ways - something that video conferencing struggles to achieve.
To examine how AR affected the way people behaved in social situations, researchers recruited 218 participants and conducted three studies. In the first two experiments, each participant interacted with a virtual avatar named Chris who would sit on a real chair in front of them.
The first study replicated traditional psychology finding known as social inhibition. Just as people complete easy tasks with ease and struggle with more challenging ones when they have a person watching them in the real world, the same held true when an avatar was watching study participants in augmented reality, the researchers found.
Study participants completed easy anagrams faster but performed poorly on the complex ones when avatar Chris was visible in their AR field of vision.
Another study tested whether participants would follow accepted social cues when interacting with avatar Chris. This was measured by tracking whether participants would sit on the chair that avatar Chris previously sat on.
Researchers found that all participants who wore the AR headset sat on the empty chair next to Chris instead of sitting right on the avatar. Of those participants who were asked to take off the headset before choosing their seat, 72 per cent still chose to sit in the empty chair next to where Chris sat previously.
"The fact that not a single one of the subjects with headsets took the seat where the avatar sat was a bit of a surprise. These results highlight how AR content integrates with your physical space, affecting the way you interact with it. The presence of AR content also appears to linger after the goggles are taken off," Bailenson said.
In the third study, researchers examined how AR affects the social connection between two people who are having a conversation while one of them wears an AR headset. Researchers found that those wearing AR goggles reported feeling less socially connected to their conversation partner.