Research VR Podcast - The Science & Design of Virtual Reality

013 - How VR affects Memories and Dreams

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VR should have enormous influence on memory.

  • VR should highly improve it more ecologically valid simulation in VR should provide better transferability of knowledge learned in VR due to cue dependency
  • Due to strong stimulation it also influences dreams that are considered a side effect of memory consolidation

If VR has those impacts, than a researcher and a serious game developer needs to know, at least partly how memory is working! Ecological validity is important for science! And effects you can achieve are important for any serious game!


Memory is a way to reconstruct the past. Memory is the influence of previous experiences on our future thought and behavior. Without it, we wouldn’t be unable to learn or adapt.

Critical parts of memory

  • Encoding
  • Storage
  • Retrieval


The strongest influenced part influenced by VR.

  • Subjective Bias, because stimuli are registered from the first person perspective - egocentrically, thus creating bias occurring even before saving memories
  • Input variability (multisensory learning) - the more senses and types of information involved, the better
  • Improvement of learning through action
    • Generation effect - action / interaction improves encoding; you are more likely to remember information you retrieve or generate (during study) than information that you simply receive and attempt to “memorize.”; aka learning by doing
      • self-generation
      • Giving examples by yourself improves encoding
      • Interaction with object
    • Brand product placement and how it affects your buying decisions
  • Attentional blindness, change blindness (Azad)
    • Tunnel vision (guns) during a threatening event - victims often can't describe the assailant, because their attention was solely focus on the gun pointed at them
    • Gorilla study
  • Filling in the gaps and remember a coherent stories


There are 3-5 dream phases with sometimes multiple dreams per phase / night; usually remember the last dream of the night. Dreams also occur more often at the end of the sleep, so especially after 5-7 hours of sleep.

People tend to have intense dreams when first getting into VR, but you get acclimated to it. This happens most likely due to increased consolidation processes - a result of higher information load to be encoded to long term memory.

Lightbulb moment - after working for a long time on a set of information or an issue, many people find a solution as a dream.

There are studies showing that it is also possible to learn things like skiing through lucid dreams.

Matt Jeremy Bailenson’s study on kids and VR. 50% of Preschool participants developed a false memory of what they saw in VR when questioned a week later about the event happening to them. However, most likely they misunderstand the question. it's a language issue. they might get more confused with VR. study is here.


  • Accessing memory, and being able to recall it.
  • All about cues
  • No remote pieces of information, all part of a network
  • Spreading activation (chair activates table) retrieval is cue dependent, that is, it is stimulated by hints and clues from the external and the internal environment.
    • context-dependent effect on retrieval: retrieval is typically better when the physical environment at retrieval matches that at encoding (this is similar to the encoding specificity principle).
    • state-dependent effects better retrieval when internal states at retrieval match those at encoding (not only moods, but e.x. being high also)

Thanks everyone for tuning in to another episode of ResearchVR. Hope you enjoyed listening to it and learned something new.

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Special thanks to Nerses Balabanian for the intro and outro music! Find him at


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About this podcast

The Podcast behind the Science and Design of Virtual Reality and Spatial Computing.

By combining our background in Cognitive Science and VR Research, we break down important Neuroscience to extract Design principles.

Each week, we feature the companies, founders, and researchers that are shapers of this Immersive Tech Industry.

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by Azad Balabanian & Petr Legkov



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