Scholarly Communications Project

Charting Presence in Virtual Environments and its Effects on Performance


Michael P. Snow

Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of



Robert C. Williges, Chair
H. Rex Hartson
Paul T. Kemmerling, Jr.
John M. Reising
Walter W. Wierwille

December 5, 1996
Blacksburg, Virginia


Virtual reality (VR) involves an attempt to create an illusion that the user of the VR system is actually present in a synthetic (usually computer-generated) environment. Little is known about how various system parameters affect the illusion of presence in a virtual environment (VE). In particular, there seem to be very little quantitative data on which to base VR system design decisions. Also, while presence (or immersion) in VEs is a primary goal of VR, not much is known about how this variable affects task performance. The goal of this research was to provide a ratio-scale measure of perceived presence in a VE, to explore the effects of a number of environmental parameters on this measure and construct empirical models of these effects, and to relate perceived presence to user performance. This was done by manipulating eleven independent variables in a series of three experiments. The independent variables manipulated were scene update rate, visual display resolution, field of view, sound, textures, head-tracking, stereopsis, virtual personal risk, number of possible interactions, presence of a second user, and environmental detail. Participants performed a set of five tasks in the VE and rated perceived presence at the end of each set using the technique of free-modulus magnitude estimation. The amount of time spent in the VE was also recorded. The results indicate that the VR system parameters manipulated and analyzed in this research did affect participants' subjective feeling of presence in the VE. Field of view, sound, and head-tracking showed the largest effects. Other significant effects found were those of visual display resolution, texture-mapping, stereopsis, and the presence of a second user. Free-modulus magnitude estimation worked well as a measure of perceived presence. A positive relationship was found between perceived presence and task performance, but this relationship was relatively weak. Second-order empirical models were constructed that predicted perceived presence with moderate success and, with less success, task performance.

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