February 22, 2024

VR Users Find Emotional Connection to Virtual Worlds More Important than Graphics, Study Reveals

A recent study conducted by the University of Bath has found that virtual reality (VR) users prioritize an emotional connection to virtual worlds over improved graphics. The study, published in the 2023 CHI Conference proceedings, suggests that while powerful graphics may be visually impressive, they are not enough to create a fully immersive VR experience. Instead, it is the user’s emotional response to the simulated environment that plays a key role in their sense of presence.

Dr. Crescent Jicol, the principal investigator of the study, highlighted the need to focus on improving the user’s emotional experience in virtual environments. While significant investments have been made in enhancing headsets and graphics, Dr. Jicol believes that efforts should be directed towards creating a more engaging and emotionally stimulating VR experience.

The implications of this research expand beyond the realm of entertainment. As VR technology continues to advance, it is expected to have a profound impact on various areas of life, including workplace training and medical rehabilitation programs. Therefore, understanding the factors that contribute to a user’s sense of presence in a simulated environment is of great importance.

The study, conducted by academics from the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Psychology at Bath, examined the interaction between technical factors (such as visual realism and field of view) and human factors (such as fear, happiness, and agency) in influencing a user’s sense of presence. Field of view refers to the amount of the virtual world visible to the user at any given time, while agency relates to the user’s ability to interact with and influence the virtual world. Presence, often considered the most critical variable in immersive VR, refers to the feeling of being truly present in a simulated world.

Dr. Jicol explained that the study involved a sample size of 360 participants and challenged previous assumptions by demonstrating that technical factors do not directly impact presence significantly. However, when combined with human factors, such as inducing fear or agency within the virtual environment, presence is influenced. In other words, the experience of “being there” must be complemented with the ability to “do there” for maximum impact.

Participants in the study played interactive games and completed questionnaires to assess their sense of presence, emotions, and agency in the VR world. The researchers manipulated the human factors and technical factors using an experimental design, allowing participants to experience all 16 possible combinations of environments. This systematic approach enabled the researchers to evaluate the relative importance of the four factors and their interactions on presence.

The study’s findings highlighted the significance of emotion and agency in inducing presence, while visual realism was found to be less crucial. Interestingly, the researchers discovered that VR environments that induced fear benefited most from being visually realistic. When participants played a game that involved defending themselves against a threatening wolf-like creature, the environment’s visual realism became more important due to the heightened scrutiny and the need to find a way out. On the other hand, in a game designed to induce happiness, where participants interacted with a playful dog using a laser, visual realism had no impact on their sense of presence as there was no need to scan the environment for an escape route.

The authors of the study hope that their research will lead to further investigations into factors that contribute to an enhanced VR user experience. They also believe that a user’s personality traits may play a significant role in their sense of presence in virtual worlds. Looking ahead, the researchers anticipate that future VR software will be configurable, allowing users to adjust the emotional and technical content according to their preferences and needs.

In summary, this study emphasizes the importance of emotional immersion in VR experiences, surpassing the significance of graphics. It offers valuable insights for the development of more impactful virtual environments, not only in the realm of entertainment but also in fields such as education, training, and therapy.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it