Areas of Science Human Behavior
Virtual Reality
Time Required Average (6-10 days)
Prerequisites To do this project, you should be familiar with using 360° images or be willing to learn how.

This project requires the participation of volunteers. Make sure you are familiar with your science fair's rules about tests involving human volunteers before you start. For suggestions and common rules check out the Science Buddies resource Projects Involving Human Subjects.

Material Availability This project requires a virtual reality headset. See the Materials and Equipment list for details.
Cost Low ($20 - $50)
Safety No issues


Are you convinced that virtual reality (VR) will soon become mainstream and improve our lives in unpredicted ways? Or maybe you believe it is a big hype doomed to fade and disappear. In this science project, you will use one aspect of VR—the headset—and investigate if it could convey reality better than traditional pictures or 360° images. You will go out and measure how people perceive pictures and images you took. Will people embrace the VR headset and what it can do or prefer a 360° image or classic pictures?


Take 360° images and pictures of public places and execute a survey to measure how people react to viewing images with a VR headset compared to viewing images on a phone.

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Sabine De Brabandere, PhD, Science Buddies
  • Google Cardboard™ is a registered trademark of Google, Inc.
  • Google Maps™ is a registered trademark of Google, Inc.

Cite This Page

General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

De Brabandere, Sabine. "Do People Prefer Virtual Reality Headsets over 2D Pictures?" Science Buddies, 4 Mar. 2021, Accessed 13 May 2021.

APA Style

De Brabandere, S. (2021, March 4). Do People Prefer Virtual Reality Headsets over 2D Pictures? Retrieved from

Last edit date: 2021-03-04


New technologies enter our world at a rapid pace. Some, like the smartphone, are adopted quickly and become mainstream in record time. Others, like virtual reality (VR), are around for decades before they experience a major breakthrough. Recent developments, like the VR apps for smartphones and inexpensive VR headsets, make VR more available than ever. Will people adopt it into every aspect of their lives? Will VR soon penetrate our houses, schools, and stores?

Google cardboard virtual reality headset next to a smartphone
Figure 1. Inexpensive VR headsets and VR smartphone apps make VR readily available.

Let us quickly explore what VR is. Virtual reality creates the illusion that people are in one place doing one thing, while knowing they are somewhere else interacting with virtual reality equipment. These illusions are possible because experiences are created in the brain with the information received from our senses. Virtual reality equipment controls what we see, hear, feel, or even smell to create immersive experiences of virtual realities.

An interesting spinoff uses VR equipment, like the VR headset, to show real places. Although the headset is designed to provide a realistic visual experience of virtual places (like a video game environment), it can also convey a realistic, immersive impression of places that really exist. This sparks interesting applications that could improve our lives. Would tourist offices be able to convey a more realistic idea of what a place feels like using a VR headset and images taken at existing places? A survey where you observe how volunteers interact with a VR headset and the images might answer this question, and this is exactly what you will do in this science project. You will take a set of images and pictures of public places, go out and present them to volunteers in several formats, and register how they interact with them.

VR headsets require special images to create an immersive view of a place. They use 360° images, which capture everything around you, above you, and below you (note that this is different from a 360 panorama or panoramic image, which captures a large horizontal arc, which sometimes goes all around you, but does not capture what is above or below you). It is also called a photo sphere, as the result is easily projected on the inside of a sphere. Figure 2 shows two different ways to view a photo sphere on a smartphone screen.

A flattened photo sphere image of trees in a field appears warped near the edges
Photo of trees at a park
Figure 2. (Top) An "unwrapped" photo sphere displayed as a single rectangular image on a phone's screen (think of this as trying to flatten an orange peel; the result is a distorted image). (Bottom) Apps like Google Maps™ allow you to "look around" inside the photo sphere, either by rotating the phone or by using your finger to swipe the screen. This particular image shows the area indicated by a dark frame in the "unwrapped" photo sphere.

VR apps add two important features to a photo sphere. They use the phone's built-in sensors to determine the orientation of the phone (which way it is pointing). When you place the phone in a VR headset, this allows you to look up, down, left, right, or turn around and see what you would see standing on the spot where the 360° image was taken. In addition, these apps display two images, one for each eye. These images are slightly different and mimic how your eyes, being separated by your nose, see a scene slightly differently. This technique, called stereoscopy, creates depth perception. Figure 3 shows how the photo sphere from Figure 2 is displayed by a VR app.

Stereoscopic image of trees near a field of grass
Figure 3. The photo sphere from Figure 2 now displayed on a smartphone with a virtual reality app.

360° images are easy to take with smartphone apps and easy to view on your phone or with a VR app and headset. This makes them readily available to everyone with a smartphone, including you for this science project. Curious to find out if your volunteers will spend more time watching the pictures than the 360° images? Will they love or be averse to the headset? Go out and take some pictures, create the survey, and find out!

Terms and Concepts

  • Virtual reality (VR)
  • VR apps
  • Smartphone
  • VR Headset
  • Survey
  • 360° image
  • Photo sphere


  • What is VR? Can you find areas where it could improve our lives and identify some dangers?
  • Can you identify the major differences between the following two survey techniques?
    • A survey where you ask people questions on how they would like a VR headset.
    • A survey where you observe volunteers use of a VR headset.
    Which one do you expect to give you the most predictive power?
  • How can a survey like the one suggested in this Project Idea be beneficial to companies thinking of implementing VR headsets or 360° images in their advertisements?


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Materials and Equipment

  • Smartphone with internet access; note that some older devices may not be compatible with VR headsets or the apps required to do this project.
  • Google Cardboard headset; available from You can use other virtual reality headsets for the project. Note that the findings might depend on the type of headset you use, as quality and user friendliness could influence whether people prefer the VR experience over viewing pictures or photo spheres on a phone.
  • A "test panel" of 8–10 adult volunteers, or 8–10 young adults and child volunteers
  • Lab notebook

Experimental Procedure

Working with Human Test Subjects

There are special considerations when designing an experiment involving human subjects. Fairs affiliated with Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) often require an Informed Consent Form (permission sheet) for every participant who is questioned. Consult the rules and regulations of the science fair that you are entering, prior to performing experiments or surveys. Please refer to the Science Buddies documents Projects Involving Human Subjects and Scientific Review Committee for additional important requirements. If you are working with minors, you must get advance permission from the children's parents or guardians (and teachers if you are performing the test while they are in school) to make sure that it is all right for the children to participate in the science fair project. Here are suggested guidelines for obtaining permission for working with minors:

  1. Write a clear description of your science fair project, what you are studying, and what you hope to learn. Include how the child will be tested. Include a paragraph where you get a parent's or guardian's and/or teacher's signature.
  2. Print out as many copies as you need for each child you will be surveying.
  3. Pass out the permission sheet to the children or to the teachers of the children to give to the parents. You must have permission for all the children in order to be able to use them as test subjects.

Creating a Library of Pictures

For this project, you will need at least two sets of pictures to show to your volunteers. Each set will contain a photo sphere of the place and eight individual pictures taken from the same spot. If you would like, you can collect more sets.

Since there is an ever-changing variety of phones, apps, and VR headsets, we cannot provide specific instructions for this section. We do provide pointers on how to take photo spheres and view them using the VR headset. An internet search on your specific device or headset can lead you to more specific instructions, and do not hesitate to ask an adult or friend for help if you have trouble.

  1. Assemble and learn to use your cardboard headset.
    Show step-by-step instructions
    A smartphone placed in the opening of Google's cardboard VR headset
    Figure 4. An assembled cardboard headset with smartphone inside.

  2. Learn to make and view photo spheres on your smartphone.
    Show step-by-step instructions
    A photo of a garden displayed on a phone as a photo sphere on the left and as a stereoscopic image on the right
    Figure 5. The same photo sphere, displayed so you can swipe through the photo sphere (left) and view it with a virtual reality headset (right).

  3. Choose at least two public spaces in which to take the pictures.
    Show step-by-step instructions

    A flattened photo sphere image taken at a museum
    Figure 6. An example photo sphere taken at a museum.

  4. Create a photo collection: 1 photo sphere and 8 regular pictures of each selected place. Add 1 photo sphere of a different place to show your volunteers as an example.
    Show step-by-step instructions
    A collage of nine photos of an empty field
    Figure 7. A collection of 1 photo sphere and 8 regular pictures taken at a public park.

  5. Evaluate your photo collection: are you pleased? If not, go back and retake a new set.

Preparing and Performing the Survey

Before you go out and see how people respond to your pictures, you need to set up a clear plan for how and what kind of data you would like to collect. This section will help you collect good data. Check out the Science Buddies reference Designing a Survey if you need more help setting up your survey.

  1. Select what you would like to collect as data.
    Show step-by-step instructions
  2. Create data tables in which to record your survey data. Copy Table 1 and Table 2 in your lab notebook.

    Id   Set A Set B Format for Best Experience Future Preferred Format
     Format 2D Pictures Photo Sphere
    (Phone Only)
    Photo Sphere
    (VR Headset)
    2D Pictures Photo Sphere
    (Phone Only)
    Photo Sphere
    (VR Headset)
    1 Sequence         
    Time (s)      
    2 Sequence         
    Time (s)      
    ... Sequence         
    Time (s)      
    10 Sequence         
    Time (s)      
    Table 1. Table in which to record how much time a volunteer spends viewing a picture in a specific format (expressed in seconds), as well as the sequence in which the pictures were presented. The last two columns collect the volunteers' preferences.

    Id 2D Pictures Photo Sphere (Phone Only) Photo Sphere (VR Headset) Familiar with VR Comfortable Using a Smartphone
    Table 2. Table in which to collect the words selected to describe the volunteers' experiences with the different formats, as well as whether or not the volunteers are familiar with VR and with viewing pictures on a smartphone (referred to as "Comfortable using a smartphone").

  3. Determine the order in which you will show the photo sets and formats for each participant before you start your survey. To eliminate potential bias, the order needs to be randomized.
    Show step-by-step instructions
  4. Go out and perform your survey.
    Show step-by-step instructions
  5. Collect enough data so you can make accurate conclusions.
    Show step-by-step instructions

Analyzing the Data

You might have noticed specific tendencies while performing the survey. This section will help you represent your data in a scientific way and communicate tendencies clearly with your audience.

  1. Create new data tables with consolidated data.
    Show step-by-step instructions
  2. Represent your data graphically.
    Show step-by-step instructions
    Example word cloud with the largest words being ok, boring, dull and usual Word cloud with the largest words being wow, great and hype
    Figure 8. These wordclouds created with Wordle could represent responses provided by volunteers on the different viewing formats.

  3. Look at your tables and graphs, and try to see patterns.
    Show step-by-step instructions
  4. Draw conclusions.
    Show step-by-step instructions

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  • This science project involves you selecting adult volunteers or young adults and children. An interesting variation is to take a big enough sample of adults as well as younger volunteers and compare the findings. Would younger people be more inclined to endorse new technology? Would they be more forgiving to small imperfections?
  • This science project studies how people perceive public spaces. If you are wondering if people feel more comfortable renting or buying a house when being presented with pictures viewed in one of the three studied formats, perform the experiment with a set of indoor places like staged houses (with permission).
  • Videos are increasingly more common. Can you study how viewing an image with a VR headset performs compared to viewing a video for specific goals, like getting kids excited about an amusement park, museum, or field trip. Note that this variation is more complicated. Think carefully about how you can control for different items shown in the video with respect to the single image, as well as the length of the video.
  • Virtual reality headsets are designed to provide you with a realistic three-dimensional (3D) view, which might increase depth perception. Could you set up a survey to find out if people are better at perceiving the size of a room or the distance of an object when viewing a photo sphere with the VR headset compared to when viewing the same photo sphere and/or a set of pictures on the phone?
  • Would the immersive-ness provided by VR headsets help people remember a visual image better? Can you set up a survey to provide an answer to this question?
  • Can you find out if people detect more details when viewing an image with a VR headset compared to viewing the image in a different form?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project Yes, I Did This Project! Please log in (or create a free account) to let us know how things went.

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