Investigating age-related differences in spatial presence formation and maintenance in virtual reality

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McGlynn, Sean A.
Rogers, Wendy A.
Walker, Bruce N.
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Virtual reality has numerous applications with the potential to support physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional well-being across a range of users. The effectiveness of these applications in achieving desirable outcomes (e.g., transfer of training, enjoyment, treatment efficacy) has been shown to depend on the extent that the user experiences a sense of being physically located in the virtual environment. This 'sense of being' is termed spatial presence. Research on this concept has primarily focused on the effect that the objective immersiveness of the system (e.g., screen resolution, field of view, audio quality) has on the level of spatial presence that users experience in the virtual environment. The goal of this dissertation was to better understand the components of the full spatial presence process (i.e., formation and maintenance), validate measurement methods for capturing within-experience changes in spatial presence formation and maintenance, changes in spatial presence levels over time, and the cognitive abilities that influence spatial presence formation and maintenance. 25 younger and 25 older adults participated in virtual reality experiences over the course of three days. Age was used as a proxy for changes in cognitive abilities. Additionally, measures of specific attentional abilities were administered as well as existing and novel measures of spatial presence during and after the virtual reality. The primary findings of this dissertation are as follows: 1) In general, there was little evidence of age-related or time-related differences in spatial presence, 2) Presence formation occurred rapidly, 3) Participants experienced high levels of spatial presence, 4) Participants maintained spatial presence in the virtual environment for the majority of their sessions, 5) Disturbances in presence were easily recovered from, 6) Methods of measuring within-experience fluctuations in presence were validated, with some methodological caveats. These findings are informative to spatial presence theory, future research, and measurement and have practical contributions for designers of virtual reality applications, experiences, and systems.
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