Contrary to the common sense view that more immersive virtual reality (VR) environments provide better outcomes, a new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking has found that more basic designs could actually be preferable, at least under some conditions.
In the study, 129 students from a western university were split into three groups where their interactions with a virtual agent in an immersive or non-immersive cyberspace were either (a) uninterrupted, (b) interrupted by passive exposure to the sound of a ringing phone, or (c) interrupted by requiring them to actually answer it.
Results showed that while greater immersion does increase the sense of presence inside the virtual reality environment, it has no discernible effect on overall affective valence (variety and complexity of emotion) or social presence, and actually has a negative impact on recognition and recall.
“These results suggest that although VR systems can be helpful for experiences that benefit from perceptions of physically engaging with the virtual world (e.g., simulations, discussions in spaces where people can walk and move around freely), they may not outperform non-immersive platforms in contexts wherein movement is less salient (e.g., one-on-one seated conversations), and can even have costs for memory,” wrote the researchers in their paper.
While immersive VR is undoubtedly preferable in things like gaming or certain types of surgical training, highly realistic worlds can be somewhat detrimental in cases where the technology is used for interpersonal goals.
This paper is the first to systematically explore the different affective and cognitive effects of immersion in combination with real-world distractions or lack thereof.
According to the Editor-in-Chief Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, despite 20 years of research our understanding on the differential effects of realism is still in its infancy. “There remain many unanswered issues and a lack of good objective measures for our feeling of presence, and this paper plays a crucial role in furthering our knowledge”.