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  • EMBODIED EXPERIENCES IN IMMERSIVE VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS:

    EFFECTS ON PRO-ENVIRONMENTAL ATTITUDE AND BEHAVIOR

    A DISSERTATION

    SUBMITTED TO THE DEPARMENT OF COMMUNICATION

    AND THE COMMITTEE ON GRADUATE STUDIES

    OF STANFORD UNIVERSITY

    IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS

    FOR THE DEGREE OF

    DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

    Sun Joo Ahn

    May 2011

  • iv

    ABSTRACT

    Immersive virtual environments (IVE) allow users experience vivid

    sensorimotor stimuli by digitally simulating sensorimotor information. As a result,

    users are able to embody experiences by seeing, hearing, and feeling realistic

    perceptual cues linked to those experiences. Embodied experiences are defined as

    being surrounded by simulated sensorimotor information in mediated environments

    that create the sensation of personally undergoing the experience at that moment.

    Based on the theoretical framework of embodied cognition, which stipulates a close

    connection between sensorimotor experiences of the body and mental schemas, the

    current dissertation studies demonstrated that embodied experiences in IVEs are

    able to influence attitudes and behaviors in the physical, non-mediated world.

    Two studies explored the effect of embodied experiences on pro-

    environmental attitude and behavior by having participants embody the experience

    of cutting down a redwood tree as a result of using non-recycled paper products.

    Focus was also placed on investigating individual elements of embodied

    experiences in IVEs and the moderating effect of individual differences in the

    capacity to feel presence, the perception that a mediated experience is real. In both

    studies, actual pro-environmental behavior is observed and compared to self-reports

    of attitude and behavioral intention.

    Study 1 (N = 47) compared embodying the tree-cutting experience in IVEs

    against mental simulation (MS) of the experience after priming participants with

    information on using non-recycled paper products and deforestation problems.

    Results demonstrated that participants in both experimental conditions experienced

    increased pro-environmental self-efficacy, or the belief that their individual actions

    could improve the quality of the environment. However, in terms of pro-

  • v

    environmental behavior measured by observation of actual usage of paper napkins,

    participants who embodied the experience in an IVE demonstrated greater paper

    conservation compared to those who merely imagined the experience. Analyses also

    confirmed that participants in the IVE condition felt greater presence and personal

    control during the embodied experience compared to those in the MS condition.

    Study 2 (N = 101) manipulated individual elements that could affect how

    participants embodied the tree-cutting experience in IVEs. Two independent

    variables were manipulated in two levels in the same tree-cutting context from

    Study 1 immersion (i.e., number and degree of sensorimotor information provided

    to the user; High vs. Low) and agency of control (i.e., the agent who controls the

    movements of the saw; Self-Move vs. Other-Move). Results demonstrated that

    similar to Study 1, any form of embodied experiences increased pro-environmental

    self-efficacy. However, agency of control influenced how actual pro-environmental

    behavior was manifested in terms of paper conservation and this effect was

    moderated by individual differences in the capacity to feel presence. Individuals

    high in capacity demonstrated greater pro-environmental behavior when allowed to

    fully control the saw, whereas individuals low in capacity demonstrated greater pro-

    environmental behavior when they were allowed to let pre-recorded saw

    movements guide their hands while cutting down the tree. Perceptions of presence

    and control are also measured and analyzed to gain greater insight to the process of

    embodied experiences in IVEs. In sum, the current studies demonstrated that the

    vivid sensorimotor experience of seeing, hearing, and feeling a tree being cut down

    in IVEs as a result of using non-recycled paper products is powerful enough to

    influence actual paper consumption behavior in the physical, non-mediated world.

  • vi

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

    So many people have touched my life, provided invaluable guidance, and

    showered me with an unbelievable amount of support and encouragement during

    my time as a doctoral student at Stanford that I almost feel as if this dissertation is a

    collaborative effort of all of my colleagues, friends, and family. These were

    arguably the most dynamic five years of my life, and as much as I hate the banality

    of this overused expression, time seems to have literally flown by, to the extent that

    the fact I am getting ready to graduate seems surreal, even. In just five years, I have

    managed to find my partner in life, marry him, obtain a doctoral degree, and secure

    a job as an assistant professor. Most importantly, as I write this acknowledgment

    while looking back at these emotionally-turbulent turning points of life, my husband

    and I are nervously and excitedly anticipating the very imminent arrival of our first

    son, Ryan Chu.

    It is obvious that graduation will also mean the beginning of topsy-turvy

    changes in my life as my new roles as an independent scholar and a new mommy

    commence. But before anything else, I think I should take a short moment to

    express heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the countless people who helped me grow

    both intellectually and emotionally through these events.

    Here at Stanford, I would like to thank my advisor, Dr. Jeremy Bailenson,

    for being there for me during every hesitant step I took toward becoming an

    independent scholar and researcher. He is the one who introduced me to the world

    of virtual reality, and with undying patience, allowed me to develop my own area of

    interest and to discover the joys of research. Most importantly, when something

    needed to be done as soon as possible; when I had a burning question; when I

    desperately needed advice I knew I could depend on him without a shred of doubt.

  • vii

    I cannot even begin to describe what a luxury this was during times of stress and

    uncertainty. I probably could not have come so far and grown so much in such a

    short span of time without his attention and guidance.

    I would also like to thank Dr. Cliff Nass for his ability to see the best in

    people. He always knew the right thing to say when I was just about ready to give

    up. Anyone can see that he genuinely cares about the welfare of students and his

    words of wisdom have a way of resonating in ones heart for quite a long while. Dr.

    Byron Reeves must also be thanked for always knowing the right answer and for

    having strong faith in my work. He always found time to be a mentor in times of

    need despite his incredibly busy schedule and the advice coming from his long

    years of experience and expertise was invaluable. Special thanks to Dr. Christian

    Wheeler and Dr. Baba Shiv of the Graduate School of Business for reading this

    dissertation and providing insightful comments for improvement the dissertation

    has now become a significantly stronger piece of work, thanks to their constructive

    inputs. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Hunter Gehlbach for offering valuable

    insights on the theoretical questions leading to this dissertation, helping improve the

    actual study design, and providing his questionnaire items. Overall, I was blessed

    with incredible opportunities to consult with the best experts that the field has to

    offer both in and outside of Stanford and was constantly amazed at their willingness

    to help resolve my problems as if those problems were their own.

    Furthermore, this dissertation would never have been complete without the

    extraordinary support from all the programmers and research assistants of the

    Virtual Human Interaction Lab and the VRITS program. Many thanks to Crystal

    Nwaneri, Divij Gupta, Felix Chang, Huong Phan, Julio Mojica, Michelle Del

    Rosario, Oliver Castaneda, and Jim Zheng for working tirelessly to meet some

  • viii

    unrealistic deadlines for the completion of these studies and always coming to the

    rescue in times of dreaded technical failures. Special thanks to Cody Karutz, the lab

    manager, who magically made everything happen, no matter how tight the timeline

    or how difficult the task.

    And thanks to everyone at the front office for dealing with the monstrous

    amount of paperwork associated with being a non-resident alien in the U.S. A big

    thank you to Susie Ementon who always had answers to every question I had on

    documentation, procedures, life as a grad student, and yes, even on rearing babies. I

    would also like to thank all the other staff members, Barbara Kataoka, Mark

    DeZutti, Mark Sauer, Katrin Wheeler, and Lisa Suruki, for being helpful in every

    possible way.

    Outside of Stanford, I must thank Dr. Kyu-ho Youm for his mentorship ever

    since I first decided to pursue a doctoral degree and Dr. Eun-ju Lee for her words of

    wisdom on various aspects of life, including how to manage a decent work-life

    balance as a working mother. I look up to them as my role models both

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