The Role of Imagination in Virtual Reality Experience

Category Computer Science

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The University of Bath recently conducted a study that found people with vivid imaginations are more likely to believe they truly inhabit the worlds they visit in virtual reality. The study focused on how imaginative suggestibility affects an individual's ability to experience a presence in VR. Researchers hypothesized that imaginative suggestibility plays a significant role in the development of presence in VR and that the easier it is for a person to imagine a scenario, the more present they are in the virtual world.

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People with vivid imaginations are more likely than others to believe they truly inhabit the worlds they visit in virtual reality (VR) according to new research led by the University of Bath. This finding, published at this year's CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems lays the foundation for software developers to improve VR applications by tailoring them to the personalities of individual players.

The University of Bath is a public research university located in Bath, Somerset, England.

There has been a long-held assumption that the quality of a user's VR equipment directly improves the quality of their VR experience. In other words, the better and more expensive the VR headset and screen, the more convincing the experience. However, the new Bath study suggests that when it comes to feeling present in a virtual world, the nature of an individual's imagination may be just as important as, if not more important than, the quality of equipment.

The CHI conferences are interdisciplinary academic conferences in the field of Human-Computer Interaction.

"We found imagination is an important component in the formation of presence: the better a person's imagination, the more able they are to find themselves in that world,” said Dr. Christopher Clarke, researcher from the Department of Computer Science at Bath and study co-author.

Beyond gaming .

The implications of this research extend beyond gaming: in the years ahead, VR is expected to play a significant role in many areas of life, from workplace training to medical rehabilitation programs.

Presence in VR is related to the user's feeling of being immersed in the virtual world.

"This is definitely an area that needs more exploration if people and organizations are to integrate VR into their lives,” said Dr. Clarke.

This new research, which involved academics from the universities of Bath, Bristol and King's College London, set out to understand how differences in imaginative “suggestibility” mean some people get a lot more from VR than others. The study is believed to be the first to examine the role of imagination in making a person feel truly present in a virtual world.

The study found that individuals with high imaginative suggestibility are more likely to have a strong presence experience in VR.

Presence .

Imaginative suggestibility describes the ability to successfully experience an imaginary scenario as if it were real. This concept has been primarily investigated in the context of hypnosis, with those high in imaginative suggestibility also proving more susceptible to being placed in a hypnotic trance. The researchers hypothesized that imaginative suggestibility played a significant role in the development of 'presence' in VR.

The role of imagination is oftenly studied in hypnosis, in which those with higher imaginative suggestibility are more able to enter a hypnotic trance.

Elaborating, Dr. Crescent Jicol, Bath computer science researcher and lead author of the paper, said, "Different people imagine sensations, colors, images, sounds and smells at very different levels of vividness. So, if I say, 'Your hand is under a constant stream of water', you'll be able to imagine this very differently depending on your imaginative suggestibility. The easier you find it to imagine such a scenario, the more present you'll be in VR." .

The study is believed to be the first to examine the role of imagination in making a person feel truly present in a virtual world.

Presence—the feeling of being "in" the virtual world—is important for how we experience VR. It comes in three sub-types: physical immersion, imagined embodiment and distance from reality.

Dr. Jicol added, "Presence is instrumental to a variety of VR applications, from those meant for entertainment such as games, to applications for learning, training, and rehabilitation. Research into presence—how it works and how to Improve it—is still in its infancy, however." .

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