Sense of presence in immersive virtual environments: Measures, associations, and possible applied uses
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- Institutt for psykologi 
The present thesis had the general goal to investigate the phenomenon of sense of presence in the context of modern immersive visual technologies. The empirical work that has been carried out was focused on the latest generation of head-mounted displays. In total, the present thesis will present five main studies and one supplementary one, for a total of six research articles. While the main five studies are published or undergoing peer review for scientific journals in the field of psychology, the additional supplementary article was published after peer review in conference proceedings. A systematic literature search (Article I) was carried out early in the project to understand the methodologies for measuring sense of presence, how these measures are used, and how these measures could be implemented in both laboratory and field studies. The results of the first study paved the way for the development of the other four main studies that will be presented in this thesis. Article II empirically investigates how sense of presence might be related to task training in immersive virtual reality. The research questions examined in this study were as follows: Can modern immersive visual technology promote learning? And how is sense of presence during virtual reality related to task learning? The results of the second study suggest that sense of presence has an important role in promoting learning during virtual reality. Article III aimed to examine how users’ biological sex may affect the experience of virtual reality. The study is a systematic literature review and was developed to answer a common concern raised by the literature: Do females and males have substantially different experiences when using virtual reality technology? The focus of the investigation was on understanding these differences as sense of presence, experience of discomfort during the simulation (simulator sickness), and learning/task performance. The results of this study showed that there is limited empirical evidence that females are at a disadvantage in the use of virtual reality in the current literature, although the phenomenon is often cited. However, the technical designs of modern head-mounted displays may disadvantage a sub-group of users, and those might be prevalently females. Article IV is an empirical laboratory investigation, and it explored the possibility that individual participants’ characteristics, as pre-experimental conditions, and personalities III may influence their experience of virtual reality, such as sense of presence and experience of ill-being during the simulation. The results of the investigation suggested that participants’ individual characteristics may be used as means for predicting the quality of their experience in virtual reality. Article V is an empirical study that aimed to answer the following question: Can multisensory stimulation increase sense of presence while reducing ill side-effects during the experience of virtual reality? The results of the experiment revealed that such multisensory stimulation (vibratory stimulation) may be beneficial for some participants, but the results were inconclusive regarding whether multi-sensory stimulation could be efficiently used to promote quality of experience (i.e., increase sense of presence, reduce simulator sickness) for the general public. Article VI is an empirical laboratory-based study in which questionnaires were used together with psychophysiological measures. The study aimed to shed light on the reason for the heterogeneous results reported in the published literature on the association of certain brain activities with sense of presence. The main research question of this article was: Is it possible to assess presence using brain physiological correlates of attention? The study also discusses possible factors that may be responsible for the mixed results in previous similar studies. Furthermore, it was shown that several electrophysiological brain activities may be used as indexes of subjective sense of presence. The included supplementary article does not directly study sense of presence, but its findings are relevant for the general purpose of the present thesis, and therefore it was decided to include it. It aimed to understand the uses and problems of modern virtual reality technology within industry. The study examined the current acceptability and use of modern virtual reality equipment in work safety. In conclusion, the findings of the present research project shed light on the methodological challenges of analyzing and quantifying sense of presence. Furthermore, it successfully showed that it is important to consider subjective user experience (such as sense of presence) when examining the possibility of using virtual reality as an instrument to exploit the possible advantages of the technology. It was shown that the individual characteristics of users may play a role in predicting the quality of the virtual experience as well as its unpleasant ill effects, which may impair IV the possibility of adoption of the technology outside the niche of gaming enthusiasts. However, the striking heterogeneity of the results published in the literature calls for further studies on factors associated with presence. Furthermore, it was found that some methodologies may be used to increase sense of presence and reduce ill effects of virtual reality, even though this is true only in certain categories of users. Finally, it was shown that brain-related psychophysiological phenomena connected with sense of presence can be studied and possibly used for the assessment of subjective sense of presence, despite several methodological challenges.