Health Implications of VR Headsets. Should We Be Worried?
As with all toys and gadgets, age limits have been set by most of the VR headset and hardware manufacturers. The Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR for example have set age 13 as the minimum age. Sony set 12 years for its PlayStation VR and HTC doesn’t have a specific age limit but they warn users against allowing their kids and young ones access to the Vive. One must wonder if all these age restrictions are just a precautionary measure of if there is a real danger that comes with these devices.
There is a lot of talk in the media on how VR headsets can adversely affect people of a certain age and Professor Martin banks weighed in on the controversy “So far I’ve seen no so-called smoking gun, no concrete evidence that a child of a certain age was somehow adversely affected by wearing a VR headset,” Martin Banks, Professor of Optometry, Vision Science, Psychology, and Neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley told Digital Trends. “My guess is that all they’re doing is saying that kids are developing and development slows down when they reach adolescence, and so let’s just play it safe and say that while these kids are undergoing significant development, we’ll advise people not to let them use it.”
Virtual reality is relatively new and there isn’t enough data yet to say with certainty if it has long term effects on children so virtual reality headset manufacturers in this case are just trying to be cautious. “There is pretty good evidence, particularly among children, that if you do so-called near work, where you’re looking at something up close, like reading a book up very close or looking at a cellphone, that it causes the eye to lengthen and that causes the eye to become near-sighted,” explains Professor Banks.
Nearsightedness is a real problem and it has been on the increase in recent years. One recent study showed that nearsightedness in those in the age bracket of 12 to 54 rose from 25 percent in 1971 to 41.6 percent between 1999 to 2004. A lot of this has been linked to new age habits like reading or using a computer. The damage occurs mostly when kids focus on things that are near for prolonged periods of time so there is a fear that VR headsets will become a part of the problem but the VR headsets aren’t going to be as harmful.
“Let’s contrast a kid using a VR headset compared to a kid using a smartphone. When they use the smartphone they typically hold it very close to them and so they have to focus their eye close,” explains Prof. Banks. “You might think that with the VR headset they’d have to do the same thing because the image is close to the eye, but [VR headsets] have optics in the setup that make the stimulus effectively far away, so, in terms of where the eye has to focus, you have to actually focus fairly far away to sharpen the image in the headset.” This indicates that VR headsets won’t be as harmful as smartphones are to the yes and even books. It comes with its own adverse effects and if the technology is misused it will have damaging effects but with controlled use and its relatively less harmful characteristics, VR headsets aren’t a threat.