As an undergraduate, Hunter studied magical and his first computer program was used to collect data that got him co-authorship on a paper published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition. That paper was his ticket to Princeton University. After getting his bachelor’s degree (at U of Tulsa in Oklahoma), he got a lucky break and was invited to conduct one year of pre-graduate human memory/perception research at Princeton University on “reality monitoring”, and on “illusory conjunctions”. From Princeton he came to the University of Washington in 1986. In graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle, Hoffman specialized in human learning/memory and attention, e.g., the malleability of human memory and the unreliability of eyewitness memory with advisor Elizabeth Loftus. He got a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology:Human Memory and attention, from the UW Psychology Dept in 1992. Hoffman began studying virtual reality 1993, shortly after his first VR experience/demo fascinated him. Hoffman joined the Human Interface Technology Lab or HITLab (founded by Tom Furness, the grandfather of virtual reality). An interdisciplinary researcher, Hoffman is Director of the Virtual Reality Analgesia Research Center and research scientist in Mechanical Engineering in Eric Seibel’s Human Photonics Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Hoffman is also affiliate faculty in Radiology and Psychology at the University of Washington. Initially interested in “virtual reality monitoring” how people distinguish the real vs. virtual origins of memories, Hoffman began exploring techniques that blur the distinction between fact (reality) and fantasy (virtual reality), and that maximize presence in VR. Hoffman specializes in interdisciplinary research applying virtual reality technology and theories of attention and memory to challenging medical and psychological problems.
Hoffman, and pain psychologist Dave Patterson (from UW Harborview Burn Center) co-originated the technique of using Immersive Virtual Reality for pain distraction. Hoffman has led the design of several virtual worlds, including SnowWorld pain distraction, the first virtual world designed for pain distraction, which also became an immersive VR exhibit (from 2006 to 2008) curated by the Smithsonian museum. This National Museum of Design Triennial exhibition started at the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design, and toured to the Contemporary Art Museum in Boston, and then to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston). Hoffman’s SpiderWorld with tactile augmentation was used to conduct one of the early studies using VR for treating phobias SpiderWorld also became an immersive VR exhibit at the Heinz Nixdorf computer museum in Dusseldorf German, (in 2006), the SpiderWorld exhibit was valuable experience that helped make the SnowWorld exhibit go very smoothly. Creating bulletproof immersive VR exhibits for museums ten years ago was challenging but was a big hit. Difede and Hoffman 2002 published the first study to use VR exposure therapy to treat civilian Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (World Trade Center World). Hoffman, UW instrument maker Jeff Magula, Eric Seibel (UW Mechanical Engineering), Todd Richards (UW Radiology) and others designed and developed custom original hardware technologies, such as wide field of view fiberoptic magnet-friendly VR goggles that can be used during fMRI brain scans, and water friendly VR goggles that can be used by burn patients during wound cleaning, and the robot-like articulated arm VR goggles holders, which holds VR goggles near the burn patients face, without touching the patient (used with both pediatric civilian burn patients and soldiers with combat-related burn injuries). Hunter Hoffman was named one of the top “fast 50” innovators of the next 10 years. Recently Hoffman helped design DBT VR Mindfulness Skills Learning world, in collaboration with UW psychologist Marsha Linehan and colleagues, for treating suicidal people.
See www.vrpain.com Hoffman and his UW colleagues have been featured in several documentaries and science news (e.g., Scientific American Frontiers with Alan Alda), and his research been showcased in shows with Katie Couric (Today Show) and Diane Sawyers (Good Morning America), and Rock Center with Brian Williams. His research has also been featured in Wired Magazine, Scientific American, Scientific American Mind, GQ, Popular Science, Smithsonian Magazine, and the New York Times, and a number of documentaries.