Chapter 2: Presence and Social Human Communication

The term presence is not clearly defined but commonly referred to as a feeling of “being there other than the current physical environment” alone, with others, objects or in a social setting. Research shows that presence influences task performance but is itself influenced by a variety of factors [Nichols et al., 2000; Schroeder et al., 2001; Singer et al., 1995; Slater et al., 2000b; Snow, 1996; Welch, 1999; Zimmons et al., 2003]. The experience of presence is a precondition for co-presence [Slater et al., 2000a] which in turn is a precondition for collaboration [Tromp et al., 1998]. Improving presence therefore improves collaboration.

Although presence and co-presence is difficult to measure, some subjective measurement is possible typically using questionnaires, whereas objective measures include psychological measurements and observed reactions to given stimuli. For example, when an immersed user ducks down in order to avoid a collision with a virtual beam suspended in midair (e.g. see Chapter 6). Results suggest that with the intensity of collaboration, a higher perception of co-presence can be found. Chapters 5-8 analysis various displays and results show that presence is depending on display properties such as field of view, size and navigational freedom.

The feeling of presence, and particularly the naturalness of interaction with objects, may be improved when the user can see their own body in the context of the virtual environment [Mine et al., 1997b]. Schuemie concludes that little is known about what interaction has to do with presence [Schuemie et al., 2001]. It may be argued that even less is known about the relationship between effective interaction on common objects as a focus of interest and co-presence. An understanding of the nature of interaction in the real world can help to reason about co-presence and may lead to further defining its requirements.

While we collaborate with other people through an object, we use a variety of communicational resources to demonstrate our opinion, intention and needs to others. Be it simply verbally with emotional nuances, with gestures and postures in a non-verbal way or by manipulating the object directly. When interacting remotely, these forms of social human communication (SHC), as well as the representation of the object, need to be mediated through tele-collaboration technology. For example, in CVEs this is done by using avatars which are a virtual representation of a user and immersive technology place a user in a spatial social context allowing natural first person interaction. The avatars used in most systems are far from sophisticated or lifelike, yet people accept them and when working closely around shared objects and other artefacts the avatar appearance is becoming less important [Nilsson et al., 2002]. Surly lifelike avatars would be very useful for a social discussion if all minor cues are represented, but for an object oriented task it is more important to communicate the intentions across.

Conversation and collaboration is subject to alterations also called turn-taking and its problems have been widely discussed in research on remote communication and collaboration, but the key problem is that it is very difficult to express ideas, emotions and opinions. More effort is needed than during face-to-face meetings and people have to be very explicit in what they say and how they refer to objects and their actions. If supported, the use of postures, gestures and other non-verbal cues can simplify the communication between groups.

In the design of virtual environments it is important to acknowledge the notion of personal space. People’s behaviour and perception of proxemics do not necessarily change if they enter a virtual environment, especially when entering an immersive environment. It can be observed that an immersed user in collaboration with other users does avoid violating their personal space. For example, one user is holding an object while a second user comes with a tool to manipulate the object, but avoids entering the intimate space.

The subject of communication is not always abstract and often relates to our surroundings and artefacts within it, both providing a context for understanding and people are fully adaptable to this. Differences can arise when we meet people of other cultures or use technology for communication and collaboration.

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