Exploring the effects of Virtual Reality is an upcoming topic of research (Guttentag, 2010). Traditional research methods, such as user tests on which pre-post-test questionnaires are administered to viewers of VR, can be used to investigate the effects of VR media. That is, what people understand of the content displayed during a VR experience, the possible changes in their level of awareness about the object displayed, their behavioral intentions such as their willingness to visit a place, and their learning curve, such as what they remember over time).
This research approach proposed by Dr. Elena Marchiori, Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer at USI – Università della Svizzera italiana (Lugano, Switzerland), and executive director of webatelier.net – the eTourism Lab at USI, posits that investigating the biophysical reactions of people experiencing VR applications can provide a further understanding of the elements that most affect their memory recall and related emotions. Indeed, biophysical body reactions, such as electrodermal activity (EDA) and heart rate variability (HRV), are considered as valid indicators for recognizing and measuring emotions and arousal levels (i.e., the intensity of an emotion) during an experience.
Moreover, VR applications are generally experienced using head-mounted devices that tend to reduce the effects of external stimuli (e.g., external visual stimuli and, when earplugs are used, sounds). Thus, detected effects on collected EDA and HR data during a VR experience can generally be attributed to the VR content displayed. Upcoming research in this direction foresees the inclusion and triangulation of data using eye-tracking techniques and insights from the data analytics of such devices.
Practical implications: the design of the VR experience is still under research. The traditional storytelling approach has a new challenge in VR as content is displayed in a different setting where a user is the center of the experience and decides where to look and what to look at (Lauria and Ford Morie, 2015). Indeed, a viewer might miss important elements of the story because he/she was looking in a particular direction. This technology requires an articulation of its own grammar in terms of content design. At the same time, a VR solution for the tourism domain also requires its own grammar (Guttentag, 2010).
Understanding what kind of content and format should be placed where, in what manner, and at what time during a VR experience represents not only a challenge for the VR designer but also an important goal for communicators interested in using such technology to convey messages and propose new valuable experiences. Hence, this study is part of a contemporary research quest that studies VR media effects with the purpose of designing better VR content.
*Parts of this post have been published in the following articles submitted by the author:
Marchiori E., Niforatos E., Preto L. (2017) Measuring the Media Effects of a Tourism-Related Virtual Reality Experience Using Biophysical Data. In: Schegg R., Stangl B. (eds). Springer, Cham, 203-215. Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2017
Marchiori E., Niforatos E., Katsira M. (2016) Using biophysical measurements to assess the effects of a tourism-related virtual reality experience. Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy. Consumer Behavior in Tourism Symposium (CBTS 2016), 14-17 December 2016, Bruneck, Italy
Here’s a video: where you can find a short lecture on Virtual and Augmented Reality from a Communication perspective made by Dr. Elena Marchiori