Positive Impact of Virtual Environments on Local Drinkers
One of the latest tools being employed by UWA health researchers to get through to heavy drinkers about the risks they face includes Online Virtual Environments. This is an innovative step, and is part of a global emerging trend emerging where researchers around the world are embracing technology such as virtual reality, software solutions, smartphones, and wearable devices to replace traditional research techniques and methods.
Curtin University’s Professor Simone Pettigrew and UWA’s Dr. David Glance, both while at this week’s Science on Swan Conference in Perth, gave an outline of their work on developing and testing health messages to get through to drinkers. There were focus groups that had come up with 12 messages to alert people to the dangers of excessive alcohol intake, and then 2,100 people in an online survey whittled the dozen down to six. “Once we had our six messages, we then had to decide which of those six messages was best,” Prof Pettigrew said. In order to achieve that, the researchers created three online virtual environments and another 1,600 people were recruited to go online, enter the virtual environments and give their feedback.
Dr. David Glance and the team at the UWA Centre for Software Practice developed the online virtual environment that was utilized in the testing of the alcohol messages. Dr. Glance told the conference of their aim to create very user-friendly online environment that users could download and visit.
They could then roam and interact easily from the online environment, they could also rotate objects in a 360-degree view and see one of the several messages about alcohol use. “We had three scenarios, a living room, a doctor’s surgery and a bus stop,” he said. “In the living room for example, you could click on the young boy and he would tell you what he had learnt at school, and if you clicked on the bottles on the table the alcohol message would be shown.” It was possible for the researchers to track where the participants clicked on their screens while the participants visited the online world, and thus analyze the results.
Prof. Pettigrew said people who visited the virtual environment thought the alcohol messages were believable, convincing and personally relevant. Of great importance was the fact that the participants indicated a need to re-think or reduce their drinking habits. “One respondent said: ‘Very compelling survey. The 360 view made me uneasy reading that health fact over and over as I know I drink too much’,” Prof Pettigrew said. And the winning message from those who visited the online environment?: “Alcohol increases your risk of bowel cancer.”