Although the question of whether the metaverse is already here is hotly debated, no one can deny its impact or importance when it finally does arrive.
Imagine a place where we can do everything we do in the physical world but in a digital environment. Where we can run, shop, interact and play in multiple locations whenever we want.
It’s no wonder that businesses are keen to learn and adopt the metaverse before we really see what it can do – its potential is almost beyond comprehension. But with such a groundbreaking evolution on our doorstep, how will human psychology – often frail at the best of times – adapt and change to meet it?
How close are we to the metaverse? And what impact will it have?
The metaverse is much closer than you think, and the adaptation process has already begun in many ways.
Take social media platforms, for example. They enhance our connectivity exponentially, allowing us to interact with people across the globe, plan events, lead communities and share ideas between interested parties. In short, they allow us to create our own virtual spaces – not far from what the metaverse is set to do.
The one area where the metaverse largely differs is in the creation of realistic avatars, essentially the replica of the user. Being able to interact and live in a digital utopia as an avatar that we choose is both exceptional and frightening in its promise. Will those of us who struggle in the ‘real world’ be more likely to become addicted to the metaverse, and its promise of a better life? Will we become disappointed and disillusioned with our real selves when compared with our perfect, non-organic avatars? The reported mental health issues stemming from social media use suggest that this will be the case, and it will be up to us as a society to reduce its effect.
The psychological effect of the metaverse is not altogether ominous, however. Controlled environments in virtual reality have already been shown to be beneficial for sufferers of mental health issues such as PTSD, ADHD, eating disorders and other conditions. The metaverse, as it grows and develops, will be able to improve on this further, providing even more positive benefits.
Will the metaverse shape us, or will we shape the metaverse?
If we look at the current state of social media, we can see that human psychology has a powerful and sustained effect on the systems that we create. We are complicated creatures, and we are numerous, often with conflicting motivations and incentives that are not harmonious with the group. Our complexity, like it has throughout time with many systems, will shape and create the rules of the metaverse as we know it.
Our pursuit of pleasure and weakness for instant gratification has the potential to wreak havoc in the metaverse. Much like social media activates reward pathways in the brain, the metaverse will do something similar, making metaverse addiction a real possibility – especially among that subset of the population who are not having their needs met in the ‘real world’.
Likewise, our pursuit of power, often glorified in society, will have a huge effect on how the metaverse functions and how we interact within it. For many of us, it will simply be a new way to interact, to game, and in some ways live, but for businesses and governments it will become yet another stage to do battle, to grab market share, to influence and to win.
On a more positive note, the metaverse will likely provide us new avenues to meaning and purpose, as individuals and as communities. For many of us, especially the disenchanted, it may provide a new environment in which to integrate, to belong to something bigger than ourselves and in the process forget ourselves, something which author Emily Esfahani Smith calls ‘transcendence’.
How brands can thrive in the metaverse using basic psychological principles
The metaverse promises to be revolutionary for consumer behaviour and marketing in particular. One thing will remain the same, however – the unconscious biases that our brains subject us to.
For example, the priming effect – where an individual’s exposure to stimuli can have a subsequent effect on their behaviours and decisions – will become a critical part of every metaverse designer’s job. There has never been a more perfect environment for tailored experiences that will maximise the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Expect the priming effect to become a marketing standard in the next few years.
The metaverse will also bring the ‘paradox of choice’ into the public eye. The paradox of choice states that, past a certain point, having more choice actually reduces customer satisfaction and increases anxiety. In a digital environment such as the metaverse, where total abundance is theoretically possible, being able to toe the line between freedom and the paradox of choice will be an important ability for brands and marketers who want to empower the customers but not cause decision paralysis.
Finally, the metaverse promises to be a fascinating experiment into one of humanity's oldest and most important drivers: scarcity. Scarcity is the engine of all economies and marketplaces, driving prices, creating incentives and facilitating exchanges – so what do we do when it no longer exists?
The answer may be slightly unusual: artificial scarcity. We have already seen it in action, in the nascent NFT space, where millions can change hands in the blink of an eye. But how will the population in general react when artificial scarcity becomes part of day-to-day life? Time will – but brands will need a deep understanding of its mechanisms if they intend to thrive in the long-term.
Interested in learning more about how your business can thrive in the metaverse? Check out our Metaverse Consultancy Services and get in touch for an initial chat.