Virtual counselling sessions operated by a robot are more popular with some people than in-person appointments conducted by a human, latest evidence shows.

Researchers from the Edith Cowan University discovered that 30 per cent of adults feel more comfortable opening up about difficult aspects of their life with a robot than another individual.

By using body motion software, the team of academics assessed how communication methods varied between virtual and in-person appointments. Each participant also self-reported how comfortable they felt during each session.

First author Dr Shane Rogers said: “Overall people rated VR social interaction as similar to face-to-face interaction, with the exception of closeness, where people tended to feel a little closer with each other when face-to-face.”

According to the scientists, virtual reality will soon be used in more aspects of daily life, including business, tourism, education and therapy.

Dr Rogers said: “The study found that 30 per cent of people preferred disclosing negative experiences via VR.

“This means that therapy might be opened up to new people who don’t feel comfortable with traditional face-to-face interactions.”

He added: “It might also enable therapists to conduct therapy more effectively at a distance, as a person can be in the therapist room (in virtual reality) while seated in their own home.”

Over the next decade, virtual reality will dominate social situations, the research study has reported.

“More powerful computers are becoming more affordable, VR headsets and peripherals are continuing to develop, and more user-friendly VR interaction software platforms are becoming available and being updated,” said Dr Rogers.

The paper, Realistic motion avatars are the future for social interaction in virtual reality, has been published in the journal Frontiers in Virtual Reality.

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