client: University of California, Santa Barbara, Research Center for Virtual Environments
research field: Human Behavior
equipment used: WorldViz Vizard Virtual Reality Software Toolkit, WorldViz PPT-X 8 optical/inertial hybrid wide-area tracking system, VR headset.
The Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior (ReCVEB) is a multi-disciplinary research organization at the University of California, Santa Barbara, devoted to understanding the complex interplay of computer-generated virtual environments and human behavior.
Unique to UCSB, ReCVEB enables researchers to conduct pioneering research and break new ground in a fast growing technological enterprise with important societal ramifications. ReCVEB facilitates the development of virtual-environment based research methods relevant to the scientific study of human behavior and advancement of the capabilities and effectiveness of virtual environment systems using the latest advances in virtual environment technology and software. Given the interest and expertise, both scientific and technical, of UCSB scholars as well as the level of external federal funding accrued, ReCVEB has become one of the leading virtual environment research centers in the world.
ReCVEB has the potential of creating a methodological paradigm shift in the behavioral and social sciences at the same time providing society with knowledge pertinent to the diffusion of immersive virtual environment technology.
Immersive virtual environment technology has advanced to the point where one can place ambulatory individuals within illusory contexts simulating physical and social environments completely controlled by researchers. Individuals can and do act relatively unrestrictedly and in real time within such virtual worlds. At ReCVEB, members use virtual environment technology, which heretofore has been used most widely for purposes of training and entertainment, to investigate behavioral science issues scientifically.
Immersive virtual environment technology can greatly aid our understanding of social influence, social interaction and other areas of research in social psychology. This technology allows researchers to test theoretically-based hypotheses and maintain complete control over a variety of factors in the social situation, from the physical appearance of the virtual world to the behavior of virtual others in the world.This degree of experimental control is not accompanied by the usual decrease in the realism of experimental settings that are associated with traditional research methods. By allowing researchers to increase the realism of social situations, this technology also promises to enhance the generalizability of results obtained in experiments to the real world. Furthermore, virtual environments can also be used to implement “impossible” experimental manipulations such as changing the physical (i.e., skin color) and social (i.e., gender) identity of research participants. Finally, what we learn about social interaction by using this technology may be used to enhance the realism and utility of immersive environment technology.
Spatial cognition is an area of research that has already embraced virtual environment technology (e.g., special 1998 issue of Presence devoted to orientation and navigation). Much of the appeal of virtual environment technology is the ease with which one can create complex environments for studying spatial behavior. There are innumerable questions that lend themselves to study using virtual environment technology, including navigation, cognitive mapping of natural environments, and spatial memory; moreover, the answers to them are important for designing effective immersive virtual environments. Our group is currently using virtual environment technology for the following research projects: 1) understanding how one aggregates and integrates local cognitive maps into a global cognitive map, 2) examining alignment effects, 3) measuring performance when navigating through 3D environments, and 4) understanding how subjective vertical affects perception of shapes.