Factors affecting sense of presence in a virtual reality social environment: A qualitative study

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Sense of presence is an important factor influencing the quality of the virtual reality (VR) experience. However, there is limited understanding of what factors affect presence in virtual environments. The present study uses a qualitative methodology, specifically thematic analysis to investigate factors affecting sense of presence in a VR social environment that has been designed for psychological assessment. After experiencing a virtual bar-room that contained interactions with multiple avatars, participants (N=76) took part in a semi-structured interview. Eight key themes and associated subthemes were identified: emotions about self (anxiety, paranoid ideation, detachment), emotions about others (loneliness, retrospective emotions, recognition of self), thoughts about self (memories, social judgement), thoughts about others (paranoid ideation, narrative), physiological reactions (anxiety, cybersickness), behaviour of avatars (narrative, duration of interaction, characteristics), interactivity with environment (movement, familiarity), and environmental characteristics (restrictions). Sense of presence was facilitated when the VR elicited genuine cognitive, emotional, and behavioural responses, and when participants created their own narrative about events. Presence decreased when participants experienced diminished agency and experienced physical impediments, such as cybersickness and awareness of apparatus and body movement. Strengths of the study include rich data generated by the qualitative approach and the large sample size. Limitations include lack of follow-up measuring longer term effects.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCyberpsychology Behavior And Social Networking
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Dec 2018


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