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Modern technology has made great strides in personal communication, but some of the body gestures that are so critical to full understanding are lost in virtual translation. In a typical face-to-face communication, speakers and listeners both engage in certain body gestures that convey meaning and intent, but many technological advances in virtual communication have failed to account for this. According to research published in the PLoS ONE online journal, this limitation severely dampens the ability to communicate virtually.
Researchers conducting the study asked participants to communicate with a partner by describing a word’s meaning so that the partner could guess the intended word. The two players in the communication game “talked” through animated avatars. In some scenarios, the avatars were controlled by virtual reality equipment worn by the participants. In other cases, the avatars remained in the same positions throughout the interaction. Lastly, some avatars engaged in planned gestures that were recorded beforehand.
Researchers noted that the greatest success was with partners using the virtual reality suits to generate body gestures. Findings also indicate that the gestures of the listener are equally important to successful communication. However, the researchers found that individuals move less in virtual environments than in real world scenarios. Also, the placement of the camera in the virtual environment seemed to have an effect on the interaction between the individuals. Even in a virtual environment, those limitations might affect the success of virtual communication.
The researchers believe that the use of virtual environments to study communication can provide insight into the importance of body gestures in real world communication. This and other studies have revealed the importance of nonverbal communication for both speakers and listeners. The further development of virtual environments may be impacted by these findings. The lead author, Dr. Trevor Dodds of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany, asserts that there are many applications for research of virtual environments and communication, including the medical field and telecommunication.