An Introduction to Presence in Virtual Environments and its Application to Consciousness Research


Mel Slater, DSc

Dept. of Computer Science, University College London (UK) and Universidad Politecnica de Barcelona (Spain)

Maria Sanchez-Vives, MD, PhD

Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante, Universidad Miguel Hernandez-Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, San Juan de Alicante (Spain)

The objective of this workshop is to introduce 'presence research' to those interested and involved in the study of consciousness. Presence research originated with the attempt to understand and exploit the feeling of being and acting at a remote location in the context of teleoperator systems, and has been extended to the understanding of the processes involved in being in the place represented in a virtual reality. Presence has become a multidisciplinary area of research including computer science, psychology, neuroscience, and others. What characteristics of a virtual environment are crucial to generate a sense of being and acting within these virtual places? Which are the important elements in a particular stimulus (a book, a movie, etc) that make us feel immersed in a reality that is distinct from the one where we are physically present? How are computer produced virtual sensory stimuli integrated within the human perceptual system to generate an artificial sense of reality? We want to introduce here the idea that the study of presence gives us a useful tool for the study of consciousness. Technically, it provides us with a (virtual) reality that can be manipulated to explore situations in a way that is impossible in the real world. Conceptually, it restricts the study of consciousness to a limited setting, giving us a more constrained frame of reference. This approach also provides an adequate scope within which to explore the neurological basis of consciousness.

A multidisciplinary approach in presence research may consequently open another window for the study of consciousness. This tutorial will provide an overview of the field, and also go in depth into specific topics. Some of these ideas have been presented in Sanchez-Vives and Slater (2005) Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6:332.

The workshop will be partially experiential. The attendees will be invited to participate in some virtual environment scenarios based on portable equipment, and also invited to share their experiences during the meeting.

Schedule 2pm-6pm

2.00 – 2.30        Introduction to the technical aspects of virtual reality with demonstrations.

2.30 -  2.45        Discussion of people’s experiences

2.45 -  3.15      Concept of Presence, presence measures and empirical studies

3.15-3.30       Break and individual demonstrations

3.30-3.45       Correlational Presence: An Empirical Theory

3.45-4.15       From presence to the understanding of the brain workings: overlaps between presence and neuroscience

4.15-4.30       Discussion

4.30-5.00       Perception of our own body – Theoretical introduction, experience and discussion

5.00-5.30       Social Responses in Virtual Reality as a paradigm of presence – experience and discussion

5.30-6.00pm    From presence towards consciousness…

                           Introduction and ideas from the speakers and a participative roundtable.