Virtual Reality Psychology Terminology

Below is a curated list of terms relating to psychology within virtual reality.

  • active presence

    (also known as ‘hand presence’)

    an immersive state that is reached as a consequence of using a handheld tool/device (peripheral) within a VR experience

  • agency

    (see also: ‘local agency‘ and ‘global agency‘)

    the capacity of an entity (a person or other entity) to act in, and influence, an artificial environment
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  • avatar

    a virtual representation of the experiencer within the virtual world

    They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other in the Metaverse.1

    1. Stephenson, N. (2011) Snow Crash. Penguin. Pg 33.

  • Duck test

    a colloquial name for a method of testing if an experiencer has reached a state of presence by monitoring their behaviour when threatened by a virtual object

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  • embodied cognition

    the idea that cognition is not just limited to the brain, but distributed across the entire body

  • embodied presence

    acknowledging the existence of your body within a virtual reality VR experience

    In physical reality and first order virtual reality there is something very simple that you can do to physically establish your presence. Look down, and you will see your body, or see parts of it continuously in peripheral vision.1

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 10.

  • emotional presence

    a state that evokes an emotional response from the experiencer e.g. empathy, joy, or fun, within a virtual reality (VR) experience

  • erfahren experience

    an external, objective event, which the experiencer learns from

    An erfahren experience typically means that the experiencer gains something from it, usually knowledge. It is therefore directly linked to a specific moment in time, and is an experience that can be recalled in order for future decisions to be made. E.g. If I were to observe someone becoming ill from eating a certain type of berry, then I would learn not to eat that type of berry in future.

    ‘Erfaren’ is one of two German verbs that are used to define experience. The other is ‘erleben‘.

  • erleben experience

    an intense, personal experience that deeply effects the experiencer’s inner life

    An erleben experience typically describes a singular, exciting, and profound event, however these can be both positive or negative. It often involves the experiencer embodying the experience on some level.

    ‘Erleben’ is one of two German verbs that are used to define experience. The other is ‘erfahren‘.

  • flow

    (also known as: being in the ‘zone’)

    the mental state whereby an experiencer is so involved in the process of an activity that nothing else seems to matter

  • Game Transfer Phenomena (GTM)

    are the phenomena that occur when virtual reality elements – primarily from video games – are associated with real life elements triggering subsequent thoughts, sensations and / or behaviour among experiencers / players

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  • ghost story

    (see also: the Swayze effect)

    a virtual reality (VR) experience where the user is a disembodied observer in an unfolding narrative – as if watching a movie – but incapable of making changes to the world or talking to the characters

  • global agency

    (see also: ‘agency‘)

    interactivity where the experiencer’s actions could yield some sort of outcome or have a consequence on the narrative
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  • immersion

    a psychological sense of being in a virtual environment

    Immersion provides the boundaries within which place illusion (PI) can occur.1

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 6.

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  • local agency

    (see also: ‘agency‘)

    interactivity that flavours the experience, but is unlikely to send it down a different narrative path
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  • Overview effect

    a cognitive shift in awareness and new sense of perspective triggered after viewing the Earth from orbit

    The experience is said to evoke a sense of appreciation within the experiencer for the fragility of the Earth.

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  • place illusion (PI)

    the feeling of existing in a place

    Place illusion (PI) was put forward by Mel Slater as one of two illusions that contribute to a sense of presence. It is often discussed in conjunction with the Plausibility illusion (Psi):

    While PI is about how the world is perceived, the Plausibility Illusion (Psi) is about what is perceived.1

    We suggest that PI should be treated as binary – it is a qualia associated with an illusion. Either you get the illusion or you don’t – you cannot partially get an illusion. 2

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 8.
    2. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 11.

  • plausibility illusion (Psi)

    the acceptance that the scenario being depicted is actually occurring

    Another way of thinking of this illusion is as the automatic and rapid response from the experiencer to the important question: Is this really happening? If the response is ‘no’ then the illusion is broken.

    Plausibility illusion (Psi) was put forward by Mel Slater as one of two illusions that contribute to a sense of presence. It is often discussed in conjunction with the Place illusion (Psi):

    Psi is determined by the extent to which the system can produce events that directly relate to the participant, and the overall credibility of the scenario being depicted in comparison with expectations.1

    …a key component of Psi is that events in the virtual environment over which you have no direct control refer directly to you…2

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 1.
    2. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 8.

  • player modelling

    refers to the process of learning a model of the experiencer’s individual differences (e.g. preferences, play style, etc.)

  • Poison Berry theory

    the ‘Poison Berry’ theory is an evolutionary idea behind virtual reality sickness

    It suggests that experiencing sensory input that is different than what is expected, combined with dizziness, are symptoms associated with being poisoned. From an evolutionary perspective people who are poisoned benefit from throwing up quickly.

  • presence

    (also known as: ‘telepresence’)
    (see also: active presence, embodied presence, emotional presence, and social presence)

    a feeling of being in and of the virtual world, and the ignoring of physical world distractions

    It is the strong illusion of being in a place in spite of the sure knowledge that you are not there.1

    1. Mel Slater. Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments Pg 5.

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  • redirected walking

    is the name given to a technique used to extend the possible size of a virtual reality environment by imperceptibly rotating the virtual scene without the experiencer being aware

    Redirected Walking causes people to change their real walking direction without noticing it, allows for larger VEs [virtual environments], and does not induce appreciable simulator sickness.1

    1. Sharif Razzaque, Zachariah Kohn, Mary C. Whitton Redirected Walking. The Eurographics Association 2001. Pg 1.

    The technique is notably utilised in experiences created by The Void.

  • response-as-if-real (RAIR)

    a state that describes when an experiencer responds to a virtual reality as if it were real

    If you are there (PI) and what appears to be happening is really happening (Psi) then this is happening to you! Hence you are likely to respond as if it were real. We call this ‘response-as-if-real’ RAIR.1

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 11.

  • sensorimotor contingencies

    sensorimotor contingencies (SCs) refer to the actions that we know to carry out in order to perceive

    …for example, moving your head and eyes to change gaze direction, or bending down and shifting head and gaze direction in order to see underneath something1

    1. Slater, M. “Place Illusion and Plausibility Can Lead to Realistic Behaviour in Immersive Virtual Environments”Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Dec 12; 364(1535): 3549–3557 Pg 3.

  • social presence

    choosing to actively engage with others within a VR experience

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  • Swayze effect

    (see also: ghost story)

    the sensation of having no tangible relationship with your surroundings despite feeling embodied in the virtual world

    The phrase was coined by Story Studio and the name is a reference to actor Patrick Swayze who played the protagonist in the 1990’s film Ghost. In the film, Swayze’s character dies and returns as a ghost to help his wife solve the mystery of his death. The effect observed by Story Studio, looks to describe the struggle of affecting a virtual environment and the people who occupy it when no observable feedback from the world is being received.

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  • virtual reality sickness

    (also known as: ‘motion sickness’ or ‘simulation sickness’)

    is the feeling of general discomfort caused by experiencing virtual reality

    Symptoms can include: headache, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and disorientation. Research suggests that discomfort – of which virtual reality sickness is a contributing factor – is a major barrier for initiating engagement with virtual reality. Therefore, significant development time has been spent trying to reduce and eradicate virtual reality sickness through innovation in technology.

    The ‘Poison Berry’ theory is one evolutionary idea behind virtual reality sickness.

  • zeitgeber

    any external or environmental cue that entrains or synchronizes an organism’s biological rhythms to the Earth’s 24-hour light/dark cycle and 12 month cycle

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