Psychological effects of teleportation

Somebody asked about the psychological effects of instantaneous teleportation like in Star Trek. If your location changed drastically and instantaneously, would you experience cognitive dissonance? How might one mitigate negative effects?

I answered:

Teleportation as you describe it is a sudden change in location that the teleportee perceives through all available senses. We obviously can't test that on humans today, but we can get some clues from the closest approximation we can get with current technology: virtual reality.

VR, like flight simulators that preceded it, can cause something akin to motion sickness. The disorientation comes from the mismatch between the artificial scene -- for example, what you're seeing -- and your body (like your inner ear). But this seems to come from motion, not scene changes, so that doesn't immediately help. A scene that's changing very quickly does not automatically produce the same effects as a cut to a new scene.

This article argues that teleportation (I think it means both bullet time and cuts) actually does work in VR, and the author explains why: we all grew up watching TV and movies. We're used to seeing sudden scene changes. We're ok with that. Seeing them through VR goggles apparently isn't especially jarring. (By the way, there are best practices for VR developers that address perception issues.)

So if our teleportation concerns were only about the visual aspects, we'f probably be in pretty good shape: it shouldn't be too disorienting, and you might tell first-time or squeamish travelers to close their eyes for a few seconds. But teleportation also changes what you hear, smell, and feel (tactile, temperature, wind, etc). If the atmosphere or gravity changes you'll probably notice that, much like people flying to Denver for the first time.

The visual changes are the ones we're best-equipped to deal with through conditioning. The others will be more disorienting. If the context is something like a rescue mission, add stress for that (though subtract some if the people involved are trained soldiers).

So what can you do about it? For "beaming down to the planet" (et al), there's probably not much you can do other than to warn/remind people before they jump what to expect on the other end. When teleporting to a controlled location (like returning to the ship), try to create as neutral an experience as you can:

  • dark, but not completely dark -- the travelers should be able to see, but don't bombard them with bright lights or anything blinking or moving

  • something like white noise, to lay down a foundation that covers small, jarring noises like clicks from controls

  • a comfortable temperature, whatever the travelers consider "room temperature" to be

  • something to sit on for anybody who gets dizzy or disoriented

If your technical bag of tricks includes environmental manipulation and you have time, you might even be able to program your teleport pad to match gravity, air pressure, and atmosphere with where they're coming from. This would allow you to ease them out of big changes. ("Ok, they're back; start turning down the gravity slowly.")