Back

The Power of Embodied Cognition

The Rubber Hand Illusion

You probably think you’d recognize your hand anywhere, but a clever experiment known as the rubber hand illusion shows how easy it is to confuse people’s sense of their own bodies.

By carefully positioning a rubber hand on a table in front of them, scientists have been able to fool people into experiencing actual physical sensations when the rubber hand is touched.

This illusion works in virtual reality, too - participants in a 2010 study reacted to their virtual hand being threatened as though it were truly their own.

And this is actually great news for anyone who wants to learn a language.

Embodiment and Language Learning

Virtual reality provides high levels of embodiment - that sensation when your body is truly interacting with the virtual world. And it just so happens that embodiment is a sort of secret sauce when it comes to successful learning.

Embodied cognition is the idea that cognition, including learning, is inextricably linked to our physical and sensory experiences.

So while a lot of people think of learning as an abstract process that takes place deep in the mind, it really has a lot to do with physical perceptions of the environment.

The potential of virtual reality to provide embodied environments for language learning is so significant that researchers have been excited about it since before it was even possible.

Back in 2014, one neuropsychologist speculated that the realistic interactive virtual worlds of the future would enable the “optimum environment” for language learning.

So why should VR be such an ideal medium for language learning?

Well, for two reasons:

  1. The parts of your brain that process sensory information also process vocabulary for that sensory information. For example, the same part of your brain that lights up when you perceive the color blue also lights up at the word “blue.” As far as your brain is concerned, language is connected to your experience of, and interaction with, the world around you.
  2. Sensori-motor interaction with your surroundings is your brain’s natural method of learning. This means that learning a language through sight, sound, gesture, and body movement is significantly more effective than learning from a textbook or a language app. In fact, the more motor movement you engage in, the better you’ll learn!

Virtual reality makes it possible to pair language with the sights, sounds, and movements it describes.

Studies on vocabulary learning have shown learners acquire words more easily, use them more accurately, and remember them longer when learned through interaction in VR.

Researchers even found that realistic interactions in VR led the same language learners to use more advanced language during speaking tasks in Immerse than they did in a classroom.

There appear to be neurological reasons for the improved language learning in VR - there is evidence that vocabulary learned in VR is stored differently in the brain.

A 2019 study on learners of Mandarin Chinese demonstrated that even just the ability to manipulate and move items around in a virtual kitchen led to structural brain changes in the subjects. 

Immerse: Strategically Embodied

The gestures and hand controls associated with immersive VR have been shown to have positive effects on learning, and at Immerse, we have worked to create a learning environment and lessons that are embodied and strategically interactive.

You can learn a language through direct interaction with more than 30 realistic, highly interactive scenes. This is part of why our Members report that learning with Immerse is so effective

So if you’ve abandoned other language apps because it just felt like something was missing, you were right.

Unlike virtual reality, those apps can’t take advantage of the principles behind the rubber hand illusion to provide truly embodied learning experiences.

Because your experiences within Immerse are so convincing, your brain can use them to process language the embodied way and you can reap all the benefits.

So come hang out in Immerse for a while. And while you’re there, remember to do lots of interacting. Fry a few eggs, climb a tree, and even serve food at a fast food restaurant.

***

If you’re interested in reading more about the rubber hand illusion in virtual reality, check out the following articles: