Research has shown that imagining touching something sparks the same part of the brain as actually touching it. When the presence of touch is absent – like in a VR or digital experience – we can use sound to replace the sensation.

I once collaborated with VR/AR creators Holition, and the research team up at the Cross-modal Lab in Oxford, to explore how much adding sound to a digital clothing retail application could help complete the experience. When you shop in the ‘real world’, you base a lot of your assessment of the quality, and expectation of the feel and fit of a garment by the texture of the material. In VR, that sense of touch is missing.

For the study we took a VR application where you try on different virtual jackets, and added the sounds of the materials. One was a soft fleece, and one a sheer weatherproof puffer. Listen to the two materials below


Puffer


Fleece



People either tried the application silent, or with the sounds of the material added.

When the sound was present:

People spent around 40% longer trying on jackets.
When asked how much they would pay, answers were up to 35% higher.

The sound of the textures triggered the same emotions and sensations as actual touch. Helping people evaluate and rate the products better.

You can access the full study here