The effect of presence on the ability to acquire spatial knowledge in virtual environments
Falby, John S.
Darken, Rudolph P.
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It is unclear what impact presence has on a virtual environment's (VE) ability to enhance learning and performance. Currently, there are many theories and conjectures about the effects of presence in VEs. To better the effectiveness of VEs, it is imperative that we determine the impact, both positive and negative, of presence on our ability to perform in VEs. Therefore, we must study how presence affects a person' ability to acquire skills and knowledge. This must include our ability to navigate and perform spatial tasks as well as any other aspect of the real world that may be represented by a VE. To begin understanding how presence affects performance, forty individuals participated in an experiment to determine how presence affects the ability to acquire spatial knowledge in a VE. The purpose of the experiment was to determine if the level of presence in a VE increased or decreased a person's ability to acquire spatial knowledge, to include landmark recognition, procedural knowledge, and survey knowledge. Each participant received one of the following VE treatments: (1) No Sound, (2) Verbal cues with topical information, (3) Verbal cues with spatial information, or (4) a Combination of both topical and spatial information. They were then administered a series of spatial tests. Finally, they were given a presence questionnaire to measure their self assessed level of presence. The results indicate that as the level of presence in the VE varies, there is no effect on a person's ability to acquire spatial knowledge. A person's spatial performance is more likely the result of their innate spatial abilities and visual memory. Additionally, including non-specialized sound in a VE increased the reported level of presence by 15.1 percent. When that sound was exclusively related to the primary task the level of presence increased by 17 percent. Finally, the inclusion of non-specialized sound has no affect on the ability to perform spatial tasks.
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