User Characteristics, Trait vs. State Immersion, and Presence in a First-Person Virtual World

Lynna J. Ausburn, Jon Martens, Charles E. Baukal, Jr., Ina Agnew, Robert Dionne, Floyd B. Ausburn


Virtual reality and virtual worlds (VWs) are powerful technologies currently helping to define the digital world. These technologies are characterized by user control, immersion, and a sense of presence or “being there.” They have been examined from a variety of theoretical perspectives, technical and user variables, and psychological approaches. The purpose of this study was to extend VW research by relating the roles of user age and gender directly to the VW-critical features of immersion and perceived presence, an approach that has not been widely addressed in previous research. This study used a photo-real, on-screen, first-person VW in which users “enter” and “walk through” a VW via mouse navigation, viewing it through their own eyes rather than through an avatar. It used a quasi-experimental design with 35 adult subjects who reported their age and gender and were tested for perceived immersion and presence in a VW showing a 360-degree city panorama. Data were analyzed using t-tests, chi-squares, Pearson correlations, and interview comments to examine relationships among age and gender, immersion, and presence in the VW. Findings supported conclusions relating to the relevance of age and gender as user variables in VWs and the role of technology characteristics in VWs’ effective use. The study also opened a potential new line of inquiry by raising previously unaddressed questions about the importance of the psychological trait vs. state nature and measurement of immersion and presence in VWs. Suggestions for further research are offered.


Virtual reality, virtual worlds, immersion, presence, trait/state characteristics, individual differences

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