Method Comparison: To improve the methodological grounds of Presence research and to serve the Presence community by providing insights into both common and innovative instruments of Presence measurement, the MEC research program aimed at a systematic comparison of different methods and methodologies. Findings from this comparison are considered to advance fundamental and applied Presence research substantially by - Inspiring reflections on the dependence of research results on different methods under use, - Deriving suggestions for adequate methods selection for different research questions, media stimuli, and study participants (concerning, for instance, reliability, validity, robustness, and cost-effectiveness), - Collecting practical knowledge on how to apply common and (potentially) future ways to assess Presence effectively and successfully, - Obtaining multi-method findings from a variety of Presence-inducing media that may convey some insights into the nature of Presence experiences (that is, moving beyond actual questions of Presence measurement). To fulfil this methodological goal, MEC has pursued a systematic experimental cross-media research program that aimed at controlling as many factors external to measurement questions. Experts for the application of highly different methods joined in order to meet the challenge to create an integrative view of different measures and to work out a catalogue of criteria for a most productive, informing and useful comparison of approaches. The research program they have established is the first of its kind in Presence research. Measurements involved include a (1) questionnaire [1096 subjects], (2) think-aloud method [122 subjects], (3) eye-tracking [150 subjects], (4) cardiac measures [22 subjects], (5) secondary task reaction time measure [126 subjects], (6) and fmri [10 subjects]. Overall, more than 1000 subjects took part in the experiments underlying the method comparison. On more than 160 pages a detailed report shows the pros and cons of the different measures applied, including a discussion of their costs, reliability, validity and other criteria. MEC-SPQ: One of the most important measures of Presence is the questionnaire. Different instruments have been introduced; however, they are based on different and partly implicit theoretical assumptions. The MEC model of Spatial Presence has been proposed as a theoretical framework for the unification and simplification of the existing Presence research. It has been used to develop a standardized questionnaire for the measurement of Spatial Presence (MEC-SPQ) that covers the different concepts that are addressed by the model. Pretest studies were conducted to develop the scales of the MEC-SPQ. Altogether, 290 students from three different countries (U.S., Portugal, Finland) took part in the investigations, four different media (linear text, hypertext, film, virtual environment) were tested. Additionally, a dual-task paradigm was implemented to validate the validity/sensitivity of the scales. Item analysis following statistical and conceptual considerations was conducted in order to create a final version of the MEC-SPQ, which is applicable in further MEC studies and general Presence research. The data allowed creating a highly consistent and homogeneous scale version for most constructs. All Presence scales were sensitive for the dual-task-procedure, and different types of media. Inter-scale-correlations reflected theoretical assumptions of the MEC model of Spatial Presence.
As virtual reality technology differs from conventional media like television, radio and computer games by means of technology as well as by means of the states of experience this technology is able to induce, researchers have to consider if the development of new codes of conduct and ethical guidelines seem to be appropriate for the related research. While VR technology holds the potential for numerous scientific experimental applications, these capabilities should dispose scientists to reconsider the ethical guidelines they used to apply before the days of VR, because the new technologies may induce forms of experience which are in some way novel and unique. As a consequence of the requirement to secure the well-being of participants of studies, then, MEC discussed whether specific ethical recommendations have to be formulated with respect to the employment of VR systems in empirical (experimental) investigations. The results have been published in an international journal. Whenever a technology is intended to be distributed to a large market, the usability of the product becomes an im-portant issue. Accordingly, keywords like usability engi-neering and user-centered design reflect the efforts to design hardware and software in order to meet the needs of the user and enable a comfortable and effective human-technology-interaction. It can be assumed that a sense of Spatial Presence affected by a media offering and the system¿s usability are closely interrelated phenomena. MEC has explicated the relationships of both constructs on a theoretical basis. The results have been submitted for publication.
The issue of how Spatial Presence experiences relate to learning performances has been adressed by MEC in a review as well as in an empirical study. The literature review indicates that VR or multimedia environments may be beneficial for the acquisition of various kinds of skills: - For gaining factual (declarative) knowledge, VR may help to communicate complex objects, due to its powerful capability of (visual /3D) illustration and the possibility of interactive manipulation, which enables students to observe and experience relationships between the elements of a complex unit very directly. - For learning of procedural knowledge, VR environments offer effective interactive practice grounds. This refers to training of -- Motor behaviours (which can be performed in authentically simulated virtual environments), -- Decision making in complex environments (which can be visualized in simplified, task-oriented style and in real time, allowing for a quick comprehension of relevant information), and -- Task performance under mental load (e.g., emergency situations), which can be practiced in realistically simulated circumstances. - For acquiring spatial skills and knowledge, navigation and orientation tasks in VR environments can train space-related perceptive, processing and memory capabilities, as VR allows for accurate representation of space, use of different perspectives, and task-oriented design of spatial environments. For instance, route knowledge and the capability to use maps for personal navigation in unknown territory are candidate skills suited for training in VR. In an experiment, the effect of Spatial Presence experiences on a navigation performance task was tested.
In order to bridge interdisciplinary differences in Presence Research and to establish connections between Presence and older concepts of psychology and communication, a theoretical model of the formation of Spatial Presence has been proposed (MEC Model). It is applicable to the exposure to different media and intended to unify the existing efforts to develop a theory of Presence. The model includes assumptions about attention allocation, mental models, and involvement, and considers the role of media factors and user characteristics as well, thus incorporating much previous work. It is argued that a commonly accepted model of Spatial Presence is the only solution to secure further progress within the international, interdisciplinary and multiple-paradigm community of Presence research. Use potential: Basic and applied research on Spatial Presence Prospect: Testing and applying the proposed MEC model of Spatial Presence is part of the larger domain of Presence research. It is therefore necessary to consider the relationships between this model and the theoretical assumptions on other types of Presence, for example, Social Presence and Self Presence. Although Spatial Presence is one distinct and important part of the family of notions which are used in Presence research, the model’s structure might be helpful to advance theory building in the other domains of Presence as well. For example, attention allocation is certainly a basic condition also for other types of Presence, and the theory of perceptual hypotheses might be helpful to model the emergence of the perception to share one room with another social entity. Aside from theoretical integration, the model offers a level of universality which may enable media psychologists and communication researchers to apply the concept of Spatial Presence to the study of virtually any media: Processes of attention, the construction of spatial mental models, the theory of perceptual hypotheses, and user actions like involvement and suspension of disbelief are categories which may be useful for understanding how individuals process televised, printed, audio-broadcast, computer-mediated, and even interpersonal-oral messages. An example of where the application of the model would be promising is the consumption of televised sports. Live broadcasts attempt to transport the atmosphere of the stadium to the viewers at home. The underlying assumption is that experiencing Spatial Presence would increase the enjoyment of watching the game. Experimental studies based on the proposed model could test whether it is really Spatial Presence that facilitates enjoyment, a solid SSM of the field is sufficient, or if the game space is not an important category at all, because involvement with the team and the accompanying suspense are primary. As the example indicates, the model offers an increased level of granularity to researchers who are interested in applying the concept of Spatial Presence to questions of media consumption, information processing, and media effects. It may pave the way to expand the applicability of Spatial Presence within the domain of media psychology and communication beyond the investigation of virtual reality and videoconferencing applications. Both tests and applications of the model will have implications for the question of theoretical sufficiency. Although the model is already extensive and complex, researchers may still demand additional components, specifically with respect to application of the model to different media. For example, does the path towards Spatial Presence when reading text require special theoretical elements that might be unnecessary in the context of television viewing? Is there a need for additional process components with respect to perceptual hypothesis testing in VR environments? The proposed model is designed to be as lean as possible, but this does not imply that we consider other conceptual additions unnecessary. Furthermore, there may be arguments for why particular user variables that are currently not addressed by the model are important to the formation of Spatial Presence, and additional media factors involved in the different process stages may be identified as well. In summary, we believe the model is sufficient, particularly in light of our wish to initiate an interdisciplinary dialogue about possible revisions or completions in order to advance and build of common theoretical grounds in the context of Spatial Presence.
As a subjective experience, Spatial Presence is supposed to vary greatly with individual dispositions. MEC has addressed this question in a theoretical review and several empirical studies that were dedicated to a measurement of the influence of the "big 5" personality traits on Spatial Presence. More than 100 subjects participated in the studies. As a major result it turns out that people with a high "openness for new experiences" are more prone to experience Spatial Presence.