News Release

Virtual reality games can improve memory retention of safety instructions

April 21, 2015

Using a virtual reality headset to experience risky situations as immersive 3D games improves memory retention of passenger safety instructions, according to research.

Using a virtual reality (VR) headset to experience risky situations as immersive 3D games improves memory retention of passenger safety instructions, according to research published in the IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics.

Upcoming home VR headsets like the Oculus Rift are presented to consumers as 3D gaming devices for entertainment, but these new research results indicate that they could bring unexpected educational benefits as well.

"Our findings show that trying for a few minutes a VR gaming experience of an airliner water landing and evacuation results in excellent memory retention of passenger safety instructions, with no knowledge loss after one week" - says professor Luca Chittaro, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab of the University of Udine, Italy. "These results suggest a new approach to educating people about safety: thanks to virtual experiences of risk, domestic VR users will be able to safely experiment with any kind of danger, becoming prepared for encounters with those threats in the real world".

Chittaro, co-author Fabio Buttussi and colleagues contrasted their novel VR approach with the traditional safety card that airlines provide to passengers in aircraft seat pockets. They recruited 48 occasional flyers: half of them played the emergency water landing VR game, while the other half studied a real airline safety card. Participants’ level of knowledge of aircraft safety procedures was tested three times: before they tried the educational materials, immediately after trying them, and one week after.

While immediately after trying the materials, both the VR game and the airline safety card were able to significantly improve passengers’ level of knowledge, the difference between the two educational methods became evident one week after. Passengers who had studied the safety card suffered a significant loss of knowledge after one week, while passengers who had played the VR game fully retained the safety knowledge gained.

Researchers assessed also the engagement and emotional arousal generated by the two methods, with physiological sensors as well as questionnaires. The VR game created more engagement and emotional arousal, a factor that could contribute to explain higher memory retention. Different studies in neuroscience have indeed indicated that the emotional intensity aroused by an experience increases memory retention, although they had not considered VR experiences so far.

“Remembering emergency procedures illustrated by a traditional safety card is more difficult than remembering a virtual first-person experience of the same procedures” – says Chittaro – “The VR game succeeded in making users feel like really ‘being there’ on the aircraft during an emergency”. In addition, interactivity of the game can allow players to understand better the cause-effect relations between passenger’s correct or wrong actions and their consequences.

“We are extending our research to all survivable accident scenarios” – he concludes – “meanwhile, today we have publicly released a demo of our game on the Oculus Share web site, to allow people to try first-hand this first glimpse of the future of safety education”.

Journal Reference

Chittaro L., Buttussi F. Assessing Knowledge Retention of an Immersive Serious Game vs. a Traditional Education Method in Aviation Safety, IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 21(4), April 2015, pp. 529–538,

Contact Information

University of Udine, Italy



© 2015 HCILab - University of Udine.