Experiences in virtual reality entail different processes of retrieval as opposed to conventional laboratory settings: A study on human memory

  • Joanna KiskerEmail author
  • Thomas Gruber
  • Benjamin Schöne


Recently, it has been claimed that real-life, autobiographical events are processed differently compared to conventional laboratory events. Virtual reality might bridge the gap between real life and laboratory experiences and increase the ecological validity of psychological research. There is broad consensus that self-referential processing is essential for the formation of autobiographical memory. However, it is unclear whether autobiographical experiences can be created with commonly used paradigms, or if self-referentiality is unique to (virtual) reality. We thus set up an experiment in which participants explored a virtual Viking Village either in virtual reality or as a conventional first-person experience on a screen. As hypothesized, virtual reality experiences are vividly retrieved via recollection-based mnemonic processes, which are typical for autobiographical memory. In comparison, conventional screen experiences rather leave a feeling of familiarity. The encoding mechanism in virtual reality might closely resemble real-life mnemonic processing, making VR an ideal tool to study real-life cognition under controlled laboratory conditions.


Virtual reality Dual process theory Autobiographical memory Episodic memory 


Author Contributions

All authors contributed to the study design. Testing and data collection were performed by J. Kisker. J. Kisker and B. Schöne performed the data analysis and interpretation under the supervision of T. Gruber. J. Kisker drafted the manuscript, and B. Schöne and T. Gruber provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Declaration of Interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanna Kisker
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thomas Gruber
    • 1
  • Benjamin Schöne
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyOsnabrück UniversityOsnabrückGermany

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