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Research projects

Space syntax, virtual reality and architectural design: Behavioural studies

Faculty researcher: Dr. Colin Ellard
Student researcher: Marc Hall
Funding: SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) Research Development Initiative Grant

Virtually-designed streetMy current research focuses on the spatial properties that are around us.  Past research has determined that the spatial configuration of space, or how space is laid out, can influence how a person moves, perceives, or feels about a room or a building. Furthermore, these influences have even been shown to take place in virtual environments.

The current study goes further and focuses on trying to understand how virtual reality technology can be used to enhance the architectural design process. We know that when people enter and explore buildings, they betray preferences for certain spaces by the amount of time they have spent in them. I am interested in finding out if the same thing is true in virtual buildings, and whether such preferences can also be related to the physiological responses related to stress and arousal.

Pilot study: Effects of control mechanism on navigation behaviour in virtual environments

Faculty researcher: Dr. Colin Ellard
Student researcher: Deltcho Valtchanov

Virtually-designed labyrinthThe purpose of this pilot study is to examine the effects of two different control mechanisms on navigation behaviour in virtual environments. By doing this, we hope to find an effective way to allow people immersed in virtual reality to navigate throughout a virtual environment in a similar fashion to see how they would navigate in the real-world. The main question is whether using pure joystick control to navigate throughout a virtual environment encourages similar navigation behaviour in comparison to a control mechanism combining both position tracking and joystick control. A second question is whether the combination of both position tracking and joystick control reduces motion sickness and increases immersion when compared to pure joystick control.

Honours thesis: Restorative effects of exposure to natural settings in virtual reality

Researcher: Deltcho Valtchanov
Supervisor: Dr. Colin Ellard

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Virtual forestThe restorative effect of natural settings has been a topic of interest in environmental psychology since the late seventies. Restorative effects are classified as a reduction in cognitive fatigue, decrease in stress levels, and increase in ability to focus (Hartig, Mang and Evans, 1991). Previous studies conducted using real-world natural settings and photographs of natural settings have shown that people exposed to natural settings show a moderate level of restoration (Ulrich, 1981; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1974; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1977).

Modern advancements in immersive virtual reality technology allow for complete customization and creation of restorative environments.  However, there is currently no research testing if the restorative effects described by Kaplan (1978), and Ulrich (1981) are present when people are exposed to natural environments in virtual reality. Based on the findings by Ulrich (1981) suggesting that even exposure to images of natural environments decreases stress levels, it is reasonable to believe that an immersive virtual reality setting would also have a similar effect. However, such a claim must first be empirically tested. The proposed study will examine if there are restorative effects (such as such as decreases in arousal, stress, and cognitive fatigue) of exposure to natural environments in virtual reality.

A sub-question that will also be examined is the effect of presence on the level of restoration achieved. The presence established by a virtual environment is the degree to which the user feels that their experience is real within the virtual environment. Presence is closely tied to the level of immersion and realism of a virtual space. One view is that presence is the sense of being in the virtual environment, rather than the actual location the physical body (Sanchez-Vives & Slater, 2005). Three important factors that are believed to greatly influence the level of presence felt in a virtual environment are sound, photo-realism, and interactivity (Jelfs & Whitelock, 2000; Garcia-Palacios et al., 2002; Gerhard, Moore, & Hobbs, 2005).

Honours Thesis: Memory and perception in virtual environments

Researcher: Annalisa Minniti
Supervisor: Dr. Colin Ellard, Dr. Myra Fernandes

This research study is designed to help us learn more about memory and perception of individuals in virtual environments. Previous studies exploring memory and perception used two-dimensional photos of real or abstract faces. To date, no study has examined the accuracy of memory and perception of individuals in virtual environments. The present study seeks to determine if memory and perception of individuals is more accurate in virtual environments than typical two-dimensional photo experiments.