Virtual Reality (VR) leads to realistic experimental situations, while enabling researchers to have deterministic control on these situations, and to precisely measure participants' behavior. However, because more realistic and complex situations can be implemented, important questions arise, concerning the validity and representativeness of the observed behavior, with reference to a real situation. One example is the investigation of a critical (virtually dangerous) situation, in which the participant knows that no actual threat is present in the simulated situation, and might thus exhibit a behavioral response that is far from reality. This poses serious problems, for instance in training situations, in terms of transfer of learning to a real situation. Facing this difficult question, it seems necessary to study the relationships between three factors: immersion (physical realism), presence (psychological realism) and behavior. We propose a conceptual framework, in which presence is a necessary condition for the emergence of a behavior that is representative of what is observed in real conditions. Presence itself depends not only on physical immersive characteristics of the Virtual Reality setup, but also on contextual and psychological factors.
When users are immersed in cave-like virtual reality systems, navigational interfaces have to be used when the size of the virtual environment becomes larger than the physical extent of the cave floor. However, using navigation interfaces, physically static users experience self-motion (visually-induced vection). As a consequence, sensorial incoherence between vision (indicating self-motion) and other proprioceptive inputs (indicating immobility) can make them feel dizzy and disoriented. We tested, in two experimental studies, different locomotion interfaces. The objective was twofold: testing spatial learning and cybersickness. In a first experiment, using first-person navigation with a flystick ®, we tested the effect of sensorial aids, a spatialized sound or guiding arrows on the ground, attracting the user toward the goal of the navigation task. Results revealed that sensorial aids tended to impact negatively spatial learning. Moreover, subjects reported significant levels of cybersickness. In a second experiment, we tested whether such negative effects could be due to poorly controlled rotational motion during simulated self-motion. Subjects used a gamepad, in which rotational and translational displacements were independently controlled by two joysticks. Furthermore, we tested first- versus third-person navigation. No significant difference was observed between these two conditions. Overall, cybersickness tended to be lower, as compared to experiment 1, but the difference was not significant. Future research should evaluate further the hypothesis of the role of passively perceived optical flow in cybersickness, but manipulating the virtual environment’sperrot structure. It also seems that video-gaming experience might be involved in the user’s sensitivity to cybersickness.