Exploring physical interventions in VR.

For the department of Play & Civic Media, we conducted research to understand the effects of physical interventions in VR (Virtual Reality) experiences. The VR experience was designed by Ijsfontein, a creative agency based in Amsterdam. We collaborated with both clients in efforts to bridge the gap between academic knowledge and industry practice.

Client: Ijsfontein, Play & Civic Media (HVA)

Project type: Collaborative research project

Time span: 8 weeks

Completed in 2020.
Research paper to be published in 2021.

Context

Conceptual model for dimensions of Interaction in VR (Mirjam Vosmeer)

In this “empathy machine” style VR experience, you play the character of a person with dementia. The experience brings you through a day in the life, where you are unpacking groceries and interacting with your daughter.

We were tasked with exploring how to boost the interactivity of such an experience. In collaboration with researcher Mirjam Vosmeer, we used her model for dimensions in VR to define the scope of our exploration. Together with both stakeholders, we were able to narrow our focus on using physical stimuli on user’s while in the VR experience. The research project presents a scope for understanding how physical stimuli affect emotional-cognitive responses of empathy during VR experiences.

In this “empathy machine” style VR experience, you play the character of a person with dementia. The experience brings you through a day in the life, where you are unpacking groceries and interacting with your daughter.

We were tasked with exploring how to boost the interactivity of such an experience. In collaboration with researcher Mirjam Vosmeer, we used her model for dimensions in VR to define the scope of our exploration. Together with both stakeholders, we were able to narrow our focus on using physical stimuli on user’s while in the VR experience. The research project presents a scope for understanding how physical stimuli affect emotional-cognitive responses of empathy during VR experiences.

Context

Conceptual model for dimensions of Interaction in VR (Mirjam Vosmeer)

In this “empathy machine” style VR experience, you play the character of a person with dementia. The experience brings you through a day in the life, where you are unpacking groceries and interacting with your daughter.

We were tasked with exploring how to boost the interactivity of such an experience. In collaboration with researcher Mirjam Vosmeer, we used her model for dimensions in VR to define the scope of our exploration. Together with both stakeholders, we were able to narrow our focus on using physical stimuli on user’s while in the VR experience. The research project presents a scope for understanding how physical stimuli affect emotional-cognitive responses of empathy during VR experiences.

In this “empathy machine” style VR experience, you play the character of a person with dementia. The experience brings you through a day in the life, where you are unpacking groceries and interacting with your daughter.

We were tasked with exploring how to boost the interactivity of such an experience. In collaboration with researcher Mirjam Vosmeer, we used her model for dimensions in VR to define the scope of our exploration. Together with both stakeholders, we were able to narrow our focus on using physical stimuli on user’s while in the VR experience. The research project presents a scope for understanding how physical stimuli affect emotional-cognitive responses of empathy during VR experiences.

Interventions

Smell Test

Conducted using “old cheese”. We believed that a (subtle) bad smell may influence the user to experience the VR negatively, especially if they are unaware of the smell. The smell was only released during peak moments of the VR experience.

Bass Waves Test

Conducted using speaker bass parts. We believed that using subtly vibrating sensations on the participants back may enhance “butterfly in stomach” feelings, thus allowing the participant better relatability with their VR character.

Weight Test

Inspired by the “Emotion Suit” which states that being physically weighed down simulates feelings of depression, we believed that using similar weight-placement could influence the user’s cognition in VR.

Process

Decoration Solutions

In order to perform the experiments, we set up appropriate measures to gather results. A heart rate monitor was set to wear during the experience, as well as taking apart everyday objects to use as stimuli.

Testing Method

1. Participant receives heart rate monitor upon entering the room. This remains on during the entirity of the session.

2. The participant is asked to fill in the wordcloud (pictured right).

3. The participant is asked general demographic questions, as well as their experience with Dementia.

4. The participant begins the VR experience.

5. Except for the control group, the participant will unknowingly interact with the physical intervention during the experience.

6. The participant is asked to fill in the same wordcloud, except this time it is re-ordered.

7. Qualitative semi-structured interview of 20 minutes.

The Experiment

I played the role of facilitator and/or notetaker for 20 experiments. Five participants were in the control group, whereas the rest of the participants were equally distributed for the Bass Waves, Smell and Weight tests. Some participants have had previous experience with Dementia, while some had not. We noted this as a limitation in our results.

Excerpts from the Pitchdeck

Overall, all stimuli-test groups showed more promising results than the control group had. This was particularly noted in the qualitative semi-structured interview, however all methods point to changes in cognition of the participants to some extent. This does not mean that physical stimuli leads to more empathy per se, however it does open a scope for further research of physical stimuli and it’s effects on the VR experience, particularly with mental health topics.

Gender bias

We had an equal distribution of female and male participants. Gender had no effect on our research results.

Nationality bias

As the VR experience was designed with Dutch audio, we only invited bilingual (Dutch and English) participants.