London, Aug 27 (IANS) 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.
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.
There has been a long-held assumption that the quality of a user’s VR equipment directly improves the quality of their VR experience.
However, the new study led by researchers at the University of Bath 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.
“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.
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 programmes.
“This is definitely an area that needs more exploration if people and organisations are to integrate VR into their lives,” said Dr. Clarke.
In the study, the team set out to understand how differences in imaginative “suggestibility” – the ability to successfully experience an imaginary scenario as if it were real – mean some people get a lot more from VR than others.
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 hypothesised that imaginative suggestibility played a significant role in the development of ‘presence’ in VR.
Presence — the feeling of being “in” the virtual world — is important for how we experience VR. It comes in three sub-types: physical presence: the feeling that a virtual space is in fact real; social presence: the feeling that the other characters in the virtual world are real; self presence: the feeling that you are the avatar you embody in the virtual world.
“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 increase it — is one of the leading areas of VR research. Yet much of this exploration has focused on the technology behind VR,” said lead author Dr. Crescent Jicol, a Bath computer science researcher.
The researchers believe that by examining how psychological factors such as imaginative suggestibility can transform the effects of technology, developers will be in a position to design better virtual worlds for any application.