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Immersive experiences with Wits NeuRL

- Wits University

NeuRL’s Immersive Virtual Reality Lab uses innovative body owner illusions to understand cross-cultural bias.

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The Wits Neuroscience Research Lab (NeuRL) is working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers to build an immersive virtual reality laboratory. The team recently welcomed close collaborator Dr Harry Farmer, aSenior Lecturer in Psychology from the University of Greenwich, who delivered a hybrid seminar on how embodiment using virtual reality technologies can change previously held attitudes and beliefs.

Dr Sahba Besharati, a Senior Lecturer in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology explains that, “The interdisciplinary team is making use of innovative immersive virtual reality methods to create a body ownership illusion - putting yourself in the body of a virtual avatar. We are exploring how virtual embodiment can be used to help understand and possibly reduce cross-cultural prejudice.” The pioneering project is being spearhead by Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Stephanie Alcock who is funded by the National Institute for Humanities and Social Science Research.

The event, hosted in the refurbished Emthonjeni Centre in the School of Human and Community Development, was followed by a lively panel discussion with neuropsychologist and sleep scientist Dr Gosia Lipinska, Wits-based research psychologist and gender studies expert Dr Mpho Mathebula and immersive and artistic director Isobel Mascarenhas-Whitman from Typeone.

A virtual reality demonstration in the new Immersive Virtual Reality Lab also generated excitement amongst Grade 9 learners from Redhill School.

Learner Alex Frenkel said: "It was a lot of fun, I learnt how the brain works and understood how much more complicated the brain is than I thought. It was incredible."

Aziza Leotlela added her own testament, expressing gratitude for the opportunity: "It was an interesting and eye-opening experience, to come to Wits and engage with scientists and professionals who generously shared knowledge applicable to our daily lives."

Redhill Learner at Wits NeuRL event

Honours students inspired the Redhill learners with brain anatomy demonstrations, while PhD and master’s students showed examples of paper-and-computer-based cognitive tasks. 

Redhill educator Dr Angie Mullins commented: “Not a single child came away without something that challenged and excited them. Thank you, Wits.”