Facilitating sense of presence and belongingness in a virtual reality environment through manipulation of social cues

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Computer Science


The current set of experiments aims to find alternative methods to enhance QUE and immersiveness, other than improving graphics quality, which is still technically challenging in VR development (Egan et al., 2016). We first identified that the potential benefits of social interaction for QUE and immersiveness are generally neglected within the literature. Next the sense of presence and belongingness were recognised as factors enhancing QUE and immersiveness. Further evidence was brought that even non-affective faces and voices alone could facilitate better relatedness and interaction with virtual avatars. Three studies were proposed, the first investigating whether faces or voices of avatars can indeed increase QUE and immersiveness. Furthermore, this would test whether avatars having both faces and voices further benefits experience. The second proposed study would test the effect of using faces and voices with similar characteristics to those of the user. Finally, we aim to test whether changes in the perceived user's identity (e.g., human or non-human) affects the level of QUE and immersiveness and thus the VR experience overall., the question as to whether identity within the VR environment or real life determine users' social interaction was considered. Three studies were proposed which would clarify whether facial and vocal cues contribute towards better QUE and immersiveness and also if these modalities can be combined to achieve an even better experience. Furthermore, they would clarify to what extent users are able to integrate the identity given to them in the VR environment; and the extent to which it modulates social interactions, and consequently QUE and immersiveness. To measure QUE and immersivenessthese dependent variables, novel techniques using heart rate and electro dermal responses together with user's self-reports would will be employed (Egan et al., 2016), but also subjective methods such as self-report and questionnaires. We believe these studies do not face any unaddressed methodological issues. The fact that experienced and non-experienced gamers might produce divergent results has been taken into account and will actually offer new insights into how the level of expertise shapes social interactions in VR. Additionally, the chosen task depicting a volley game where players are positioned in a circle allows for further developments beyond the scope of the proposed experiments. For example, conditions where the avatars constantly avoid passing the volleyball to the participant could be used so as to simulate group exclusion and its relationship with QUE and immersiveness. To conclude, we foresee that findings from the proposed studies will bring a considerable benefit to the VR application industry, by informing producers on the best methods to maximize QUE and immersiveness, through methods which are more accessible with the available technology at the moment.while protecting consumers' mental health at the same time.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509589/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1940096 Studentship EP/N509589/1 01/10/2017 30/06/2021 Crescent JICOL
Description In the first two studies that I have conducted we found that emotions that people feel prior to being immersed on a virtual reality environment have a deep impact on their experience. More precisely, users tend to modulate their emotions so as to maximise the sense of presence they feel and also to avoid negative emotions. This effect however is dependent on personality traits and also on whether the user does have agency if not in the virtual environment. Overall, we have shown that the user is at the centre of the presence-creation process, contrary to prior beliefs that technical aspects of virtual reality are most important.
Exploitation Route These findings can be further investigated with regards to other immersive technologies such as augmented reality.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)