In Brief

U.S. Rep. Connie Morella (R­Md.) got a taste of virtual reality at the Coalition for National Science Funding exhibition.

Scientists rubbed shoulders with members of Congress and their staff at a May 17 multidisciplinary exhibition on Capitol Hill that showcased research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The purpose of the annual event is to help secure sufficient NSF funding in all fields of science by demonstrating the wealth of knowledge that is gained through research supported by the agency. The event is sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), a consortium of about 80 scientific societies and universities including APA.

Researchers in disciplines ranging from physics and astronomy to microbiology and materials science exhibited their work at the event. One of the evening's main draws was the exhibit of University of California, Santa Barbara, psychologists Jim Blascovich, PhD, and Andrew Beall, PhD, who with psychologist Jack Loomis, PhD, and others at Santa Barbara, used virtual reality--more precisely termed immersive virtual environment technology--to explore learning, vision, spatial perception and social interaction. For example, in one series of experiments designed to study risk-taking behavior, the researchers set up a virtual game of blackjack to observe whether participants' gambling depended on the moves of other players in the virtual world.

"We hope that members of Congress and their staff could begin to appreciate the value of behavioral and social sciences for informing technological advances in immersive virtual environment technology and for studying the impact of this technology on society and on individual behavior," says Blascovich.

Also representing the behavioral sciences was Lawrence Rosenblum, PhD, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, who presented research on face recognition and lip-reading, highlighting recent brain findings that indicate the two processes may be more closely linked than had earlier been believed.