Some people go through life as optimists. Others are pessimists. But, for Sun Joo "Grace" Ahn, an assistant professor of advertising at Grady College, she is a realist—a virtual realist. Virtual reality is becoming part of the everyday lexicon for many consumers, but it has been in Ahn's everyday vocabulary for nearly 10 years.
While a lot of current attention is paid to using virtual reality in gaming and entertainment, much of Ahn's research is looking ahead to incorporating the technology into persuasive messages in health applications and seeing how to make them personally relevant to the subjects.
One such study is Ahn's research proving there is a direct, positive effect between viewing a time-lapse, computer-generated video of someone gaining 10 pounds a year from drinking a soft drink and the reduction of sugary beverage consumption. Many people who smoke or drink sugary beverages know there is no eminent danger—they don't feel like they are going to die tomorrow. Ahn studies how messages can be delivered to prove risk behaviors are more immediate, and one way of doing this is through virtual reality.
Ahn also has worked with virtual pets to encourage physical activity in children. When the children reach a goal, they are rewarded by being able to teach their virtual pet a new trick. Studies printed in theJournal of Health Communication showed that the children in the group with a virtual pet engaged in 156 percent more physical activity than the control group.
Currently, Ahn is working with Kyle Johnsen in the College of Engineering, Georgia Tech and the Children's Museum of Atlanta on a National Science Foundation funded project that pairs a virtual buddy with children viewing museum exhibits. The virtual buddies will reinforce the STEM education and learning through virtual peers.
"Studies show that when children model other people, they like to model peers, instead of adults," Ahn said. "We expect the virtual buddies to work as a bridge between formal learning in the classrooms and informal learning in the museums. We want to make sure they come away knowing that the museum exhibit is teaching the same STEM concept they learned in the classroom."
For now, Ahn is continuing her frantic pace of research.
"As a scholar you always want to be doing the current stuff—the topics that are relevant to consumers," she said. "It is always exciting to realize that what you have been doing for a while is finally getting some attention."
Author: Sarah Freeman