Perception of Spatial Orientation in Real and Virtual Environments

Arthur, E.A., Hancock, P.A., & Chrysler, S.T. (1996). Perception of spatial orientation in real and virtual environments. Ergonomics, 40(1), 69-77.

As human-machine interfaces grow more immersive and graphically-oriented, virtual environment systems become more prominent as the medium for human-machine communication. Often, virtual environments (VE) are built to provide exact metrical representations of existing or proposed physical spaces. However, it is not known how individuals develop representational models of these spaces in which they are immersed and how those models may be distorted with respect to both the virtual and real-world equivalents. To evaluate the process of model development, the present experiment examined participant’s ability to reproduce a complex spatial layout of objects having experienced them previously under different viewing conditions. The layout consisted of nine common objects arranged on a flat plane. These objects could be viewed in a free binocular virtual condition, a free binocular real-world condition, and in a static monocular view of the real world. The first two allowed active exploration of the environment while the latter condition allowed the participant only a passive opportunity to observe from a single viewpoint. Viewing conditions were a between-subject variable with 10 participants randomly assigned to each condition. Performance was assessed using mapping accuracy and triadic comparisons of relative inter-object distances. Mapping results showed a significant effect of viewing condition where, interestingly, the static monocular condition was superior to both the active virtual and real binocular conditions. Results for the triadic comparisons showed a significant interaction for gender by viewing condition in which males were more accurate than females. These results suggest that the situation model resulting from interaction with a virtual environment was indistinguishable from interaction with real objects at least within the constraints of the present procedure.

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