Jerrold D. Prothero,
Donald E. Parker,
Thomas A. Furness III,
Human Interface Technology Laboratory
Washington Technology Center
University of Washington
P.O. Box 352142
Seattle, WA 98105-2142
It is argued that an understanding of presence is necessary for an understanding of
situation awareness. A model is described which combines presence and vection within a
single framework, and previous experiments based on this model are briefly covered. The
model is the basis for a planned series of experiments designed to develop an objective
measure for presence based on the degree of identification with virtual over conflicting
real cues. A possible role of adaptation in situation awareness, presence and vection is
"Presence" and "situation awareness" are overlapping constructs. Presence implies that
observers perceive their self-orientation and self-location with respect to an environment.
Although it includes additional complex aspects of human performance, adequate
situation awareness presupposes appropriate environmental orientation. Consequently,
development of robust, quantitative measures for presence is of fundamental importance
for research on situation awareness.
In presence research, as in the field of situation awareness, the search for relevant
measures is a crucial topic. Ideally, one would like to think of the virtual environments
industry as being in the business of "presence engineering": i.e., systematically inducing
a sense of presence in particular virtual environments. But before one can do engineering,
one needs an underlying science; in this case, a "presence science" which explains the
origin and nature of presence and the factors on which it depends. Developing a science
depends on reliable measures which will allow one to do the experiments to build the
science; hence, it is important to develop a reliable measure for presence. The same
motivation drives the search for measures of situation awareness which has led to this
For a measure to be useful, it must be closely tied to a successful scientific theory:
otherwise one will be mainly measuring noise. Since, in our case, the measure is also
necessary to develop a theory of presence, there is an unfortunate circularity. We resolve
this circularity by suggesting a process of convergence: we begin with a rough theory and
a measure based on this theory, check this measure against existing validated measures
for presence, and refine the measure and the theory in parallel. In the end, we hope to
have a measure which is consistent with but more sensitive than existing measures, which
can be used as the basis for developing a refined theory.
It seems best to begin with the simplest possible theory, since its simplicity makes it
easiest to refute. Furthermore, one can add complexity to a simple theory if it is shown to
be wrong; if one begins with a complex theory the next step is less clear. In the case of
presence, the simplest theory would seem to be a direct formalization of the idea that
presence has to do with "being in" a virtual environment. The formalization is that
presence is an illusion of position and orientation: i.e., that presence has to do with a
switch in the cues one uses to determine one's position and orientation, from using cues
defined by the real environment to using cues defined by the virtual environment.
Given the idea that presence is an illusion of position and orientation, it is natural to ask
whether it is related to vection (visually-induced illusory self-motion). Such a connection
would be very useful, since it would allow results from the vection literature to be applied
to presence. In an earlier paper (Prothero et al., 1995) we introduced the "presence rest
frame hypothesis" as a possible link between presence and vection. Briefly, this
hypothesis states that we maintain a subjective coordinate frame with respect to which we
determine positions, orientations and motions. Disturbances to this rest frame may result
in either illusory motion (vection) or illusory position and orientation (presence). If
presence and vection are as closely related as this implies, we would expect presence to
depend on the same factors as determine vection. Recent research, summarized in
Prothero, et al. (1995), suggests that vection is heavily influenced by one's apparent
relative motion with respect to what one takes to be the background. A previous
experiment in the vection literature reported changes in level of perceived vection by
manipulating perceived background, for constant field-of-view (Mergner & Becker,
1990). We repeated this experiment for level of perceived presence, finding a similar
Prothero et al. (1995) reported an initial test of the link between presence and vection.
We propose here a test of another tenet of the rest frame hypothesis, namely that presence
is an illusion of position and orientation. This test, if successful, will also provide a
possible objective measure for presence. The basis of the test is as follows. If presence
has to do with a switch in the cues used to define one's position and orientation, from
cues provided by the real environment to cues provided by the virtual environment, then
the level of presence should correspond to the level of identification with virtual cues
over real cues. We can therefore set up an experiment in which participants are asked to
null conflicting virtual with real cues. We would predict from the rest frame hypothesis
that the degree to which the virtual cues dominate the real cues should be related to
existing subjective measures of presence. We give the details of the planned experiments
after reviewing the literature on measures for vection and presence.
As described in the Introduction, our research is based on the hypothesis that vection and presence are closely related. Since vection has been studied longer and more thoroughly, we begin with a summary of the relevant vection literature.
"Vection" refers to a sense of self-motion induced by visual cues. Vection can be either
angular or linear. To induce angular vection subjects are seated in a chair surrounded by a
cylinder (often painted with stripes) which rotates around the subject. Linear vection is
typically induced by a display in which objects seem to be approaching or receding.
The literature on measures for vection is summarized in Carpenter-Smith et al. (1995).
Most previous vection studies have been based on a measure of magnitude estimation, in
which a subject is requested to assign numbers or joystick positions to perceptions.
Magnitude estimation is problematic due to issues such as adaptation to the stimulus,
differences in subjective scales between subjects, and "range effects".
A more desirable measure is one in which subjects make a comparison between stimuli,
rather than comparing a stimulus to a percept. This eliminates errors due to subjective
interpretation and estimation. Measures of this type constitute the so-called "Class A"
observations (Brindley, 1970).
Work on Class A measures can be thought of as dividing into threshold (Young et al.,
1973; Berthoz et al., 1975) and nulling (Zacharias & Young, 1981; Huang & Young
1981; Huang & Young 1987; Huang & Young 1988) studies. In threshold studies, one
looks at how visual stimuli affect the minimally detectable magnitude of inertial motion
(or conversely, how inertial motion affects the onset of vection). Young et al. (1973)
looked at the interaction of visual and vestibular rotation cues, by placing subjects on a
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