Psychological Aspects of Virtual Environment Use

Научная статья

Информатика, кибернетика и программирование

Phenomen of presence nd immersion in to virtul environments re subject of psychology studies t the sme time they re extremely importnt from positions of computer visuliztion. Keywords: Presence virtul relity visuliztion. INTRODUCTION The presence phenomenon ws described s perceptionl illusion of immedicy or otherwise ldquo;sense of being thererdquo; ignoring the computer s intermediry between person nd the world it intercts with. The sme wy one cn describe involvement phenomenon tht s well s immersion is defined s component of...



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Nataly V. Averbukh1, Alexandr A. Scherbinin2

Psychological Aspects of Virtual Environment Use


This paper is devoted to psychological issues resulting from virtual environment use. Phenomena of presence and immersion in/to virtual environments are a subject of psychology studies, at the same time they are extremely important from positions of computer visualization. The goal of our research is to identify factors affecting users' abilities to interpret computer visualization in virtual environments.  The experiment based on Kohs Block Design Test was designed and conducted. The influence of this phenomenon on a user's performance is considered.

Keywords: Presence, virtual reality, visualization.


The presence phenomenon was described as perceptional illusion of immediacy or, otherwise, “sense of being there”, ignoring the computer as intermediary between a person and the world it interacts with. The immersion is described as the phenomenon when user sense organs process the objects and events of the virtual environment, instead of stimuli coming from the real world.  The same way one can describe involvement phenomenon that, as well as immersion, is defined as a component of presence. The involvement is the degree at which thinking, attention, imagination and others cognitive processes are concentrated on virtual reality. Presence, uniting both states, is, naturally, something more than the simple sum of their parts. Presence in the virtual environment cannot be compared to the usual person state in the real world environment, it is a unique state of consciousness.

The goal of our research is to study a presence state, evaluate a degree of its influence on  users' performance, and also to understand, whether work in a virtual reality gives any advantages to computer visualization systems users over contemporart computer desktop – or disadvanages, by distracting them with new sensations and unusual states.

Researches on presence in VR started in 90-s, that is from the very beginning of use of virtual reality environments [2]. The questionnaire based on definition of presence was developed in [3] by B.G. Witmer and M. J. Singer. We actively used this questionnaire in our research. Also the problems of presence and its detection were reflected in [4], [5].


The study reported here is based on a computer counterpart of the intellectual test known as “Kohs Block Design Test”. Test subjects (university students, post-graduate students and tutors in computer science) were to manipulate multi-colored cubes to match target patterns. This test measures reasoning, problem solving, and spatial visualization skills. The experimental group was using binocular head-mounted display (HMD) supporting resolution 800*600 pixels as a display, the control group used traditional desktop screen. (In [6] the research was described where the analog of “Kohs Block Design Test” was used for examination of the effects of incorporating real objects into virtual environments.)

In our study 39 subjects underwent tests in the HMD, and 35 subjects on the desktop screen. During experiment correctness of solution and completion time were measured, we also made observations of participant's actions. After experiment they have given subjective reports.

The main questions were how virtual reality environments influenced on subjects' efficiency; if they have  experienced a presence state during the test, and, if so, what influence did it have on their performance.


Researches did not reveal any influence of virtual reality on solution time. There was no significant difference between decision time when subjects used HMD or standard desktop screen, yet, there was difference between error rate.

The tenth task was much more difficult than the others because the exhibit was turned 45 degrees clockwise, hence the subjects had to make an imaginary rotation.

Thus during performance of simple tasks subjects using desktop screen made less mistakes, than subjects using HMD. When performing complex tasks subjects using desktop screen made mistakes, but subjects using HMD did not. One possible explanation is carelessness in performing simple tasks. Subjects working with HMD for the first time were distracted by it. But complex tasks require concentration, and HMD helps with understanding them.

By means of the subjective report we have revealed that some test subjects experienced state of presence. Fifteen participants reported that they felt “being there”, in the same environment with the cubes.  Experimental findings of these subjects were compared to findings of subjects who repored, that they worked with the virtual reality in the same way, as with any other computer environment. No significant difference was found between solution time of the subjects who have experienced presence and those subjects that did not. In each case experience of presence affected subject behavior.  One can conclude that, at least, in certain cases presence does not influence mental performance [7].

In future work, we hope to study fully influence of psychological phenomena on efficiency of intellectual activity within the framework of visualization systems.


1. Reed D., Scullin W., Tavera L., Shields K., Elford Ch. Virtual Reality and Parallel Systems Performance Analysis // IEEE Computer, V.28, N 11, (November 1995) pp. 57-67.

2. Steuer, J. (1992). Defining virtual reality: dimensions determining telepresence. Journal of Communication: Autumn 1992; 42(4), 73- 93.

3. Witmer B.G., Singer M.J. Measuring Presence in Virtual Environments: A Presence Questionnaire. Presence, Vol. 7, No. 3, June 1998, 225-240.

4. Slater  M. Measuring Presence: A Response to the Witmer and Singer Presence Questionnaire. Presence, Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. October 1999, Vol. 8, No. 5, Pages 560-565.

5. Insko, B. E. Measuring Presence: Subjective, Behavioral and Physiological Methods. In Being There: Concepts, Effects and Measurement of User Presence in Synthetic Environments, Riva, G., Davide, F., and Ijesslsteon, W. A. (eds.) Ios Ptress, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2003.

6. Lok B. , Naik S., Whitton M., Brooks F. P. Jr. Effects of Handling Real Objects and Avatar Fidelity On Cognitive Task Performance in Virtual Environments // Proceedings of the IEEE Virtual Reality 2003 (VR’03), pp.125-132.

7. Averbukh N.V., Scherbinin A.A. Phenomenon of “Presence” at a Virtual Reality in a Context of Intellectual Activity of the Person // Proceeding of VII International Scientific and Methodical Conference “New educational technology at the university”,  Ekaterinburg, pp. 155-158. (In Russian)

1  Russian State Vocational Pedagogical University  Russian Federation, Yekaterinburg  NataAV@olympus.ru

2  Ural State University Russian Federation, Yekaterinburg


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