The sense of presence in virtual reality studied by behavioral sciences
An evaluation and quantification of presence in virtual reality
This virtual environment, largely inspired by Meehan et al., (2002), was part of my experimental studies for my Master Degree Thesis (Supervisors: Leslie M. Decker, Ph Fleury).
After reviewing the concept of sense of presence, its development and the means used to measure it,
I proposed a multi-dimensional assessment of the sense of presence. Even though this presence evaluation might be too heavy for practial uses, it can give some insights to you reader and is thus posted here.
Note that this application has been adapted to head-mounted displays OpenVR. Please also note that because of technical problems and lack of decent sample size,
this study could not an can not be published in a peer reviewing journal. It is purely exploratory. Please consider it as such.
This experiment took place in the CIREVE's CAVE.
The virtual environment, an immersive medieval-like dungeon with animated torches, active stereoscopy and 5.1 audio, contained three conditions, the first two of which were
were repeated three times. Instructions were the same regardless of the condition: "you
must open the first door, activate the first lever, activate the second lever, then exit through the back door".
Control condition: the subject is in front of a door that he opens with his virtual hand.
Once the door is opened, he enters a rectangular room, which is not very reassuring. On the floor, beams in
woods mark his path. To his right is a lever, which he activates with his virtual hand. He does
the same with the left lever, then open the back door. He steps to the other side, and the
Heights condition: the environment is the same, but the ground is collapsed. The subject must therefore
walk on the remaining beams, as it is now 10 metres from the ground. The participant can see and hear the water beneath him.
Threat condition: the environment is the same as in the control condition, but when the
subject activates the second lever a threatening man appears behind him, creating an effect of surprise.
The sense of presence of the participants was evaluated on three dimensions (which were correlated to each other) in order to create a composite score:
Psychological dimension: it was assessed on the basis of a presence questionnaire translated from
the original English (Witmer & Singer, 1998), the Questionnaire on the State of Presence, from the laboratory
of Cyberpsychologie de l'UQO (Robillard et al., 2002) completed upon completion of the protocol
Physiological dimension: it has been evaluated from heart belts (Equivital Systems)
in order to detect possible changes in heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and
skin conductance, especially in "heights" and "threat" conditions. To have a
measuring changes in the subject's heart rate as a function of conditions it was subtracted to the heart rate during the
control condition and then standardised (z-score).
Behavioural dimension: the complete session audio and video was recorded. Behavioral dimension was assessed from films of each of the
3rd and 1st person sent to independent judges (who did not know about the study) who had to rate the behaviour of the
subjects according to a specific behavioural grid (for example their surprise reaction when the
threat appears, or their degree of caution when walking on the boards over the void). The average of each judge's scores was then used
Meehan, M., Insko, B., Whitton, M., & Brooks, F. P. (2002). Physiological measures of presence in stressful virtual environments. ACM Transactions on Graphics, 21(3), 645–652. https://doi.org/10.1145/566654.566630
Robillard, G., Bouchard, S., Renaud, P., & Cournoyer, L.-G. (2002). Validation canadienne-française de deux mesures importantes en réalité virtuelle : L’Immersive Tendencies Questionnaire et le Presence Questionnaire. Poster presented at the 25ième congrès de la Société Québécoise pour la Recherche en Psychologie (SQRP).
Witmer, B. G., & Singer, M. J. (1998). Measuring Presence in Virtual Environments : A Presence Questionnaire. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 7(3), 225‑240. https://doi.org/10.1162/105474698565686