Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Theoretical model of spatial presence formation

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

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.

Reported by

Hannover University of Music and Drama
EXPO-Plaza 12
30539 Hanover
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