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Representative Results






Virtual Reality Experiments with Physiological Measures

Published: August 29th, 2018



1Chair of Cognitive Science, ETH Zürich, 2Geographic Information Visualization and Analysis, University of Zürich, 3Digital Society Initiative, University of Zürich

Virtual reality (VR) experiments can be difficult to implement and require meticulous planning. This protocol describes a method for the design and implementation of VR experiments that collect physiological data from human participants. The Experiments in Virtual Environments (EVE) framework is employed to accelerate this process.

Virtual reality (VR) experiments are increasingly employed because of their internal and external validity compared to real-world observation and laboratory experiments, respectively. VR is especially useful for geographic visualizations and investigations of spatial behavior. In spatial behavior research, VR provides a platform for studying the relationship between navigation and physiological measures (e.g., skin conductance, heart rate, blood pressure). Specifically, physiological measures allow researchers to address novel questions and constrain previous theories of spatial abilities, strategies, and performance. For example, individual differences in navigation performance may be explained by the extent to which changes in arousal mediate the effects of task difficulty. However, the complexities in the design and implementation of VR experiments can distract experimenters from their primary research goals and introduce irregularities in data collection and analysis. To address these challenges, the Experiments in Virtual Environments (EVE) framework includes standardized modules such as participant training with the control interface, data collection using questionnaires, the synchronization of physiological measurements, and data storage. EVE also provides the necessary infrastructure for data management, visualization, and evaluation. The present paper describes a protocol that employs the EVE framework to conduct navigation experiments in VR with physiological sensors. The protocol lists the steps necessary for recruiting participants, attaching the physiological sensors, administering the experiment using EVE, and assessing the collected data with EVE evaluation tools. Overall, this protocol will facilitate future research by streamlining the design and implementation of VR experiments with physiological sensors.

Understanding how individuals navigate has important implications for several fields, including cognitive science1,2,3, neuroscience4,5, and computer science6,7. Navigation has been investigated in both real and virtual environments. One advantage of real-world experiments is that navigation does not require the mediation of a control interface and thus may produce more realistic spatial behavior. In contrast, virtual reality (VR) experiments allow for more pr....

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The following protocol was conducted in accordance with guidelines approved by the Ethics Commission of ETH Zürich as part of the proposal EK 2013-N-73.

1. Recruit and Prepare Participants

  1. Select participants with particular demographics (e.g., age, gender, educational background) using a participant recruitment system or mailing list (e.g., UAST;
  2. Contact selected participants by e-mail. In this e-mail, remind the participa.......

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From each participant in the NeuroLab, we typically collect physiological data (e.g., ECG), questionnaire data (e.g., the Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale or SBSOD31), and navigation data (e.g., paths through the virtual environment). For example, changes in heart rate (derived from ECG data) have been associated with changes in stress states in combination with other physiological32 and self-report measures<.......

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In the present paper, we described a protocol for conducting experiments in VR with physiological devices using the EVE framework. These types of experiments are unique because of additional hardware considerations (e.g., physiological devices and other peripherals), the preparatory steps for collecting physiological data using VR, and data management requirements. The present protocol provides the necessary steps for experimenters that intend to collect data from multiple peripherals simultaneously. For example.......

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The virtual environment was kindly provided by VIS Games ( to conduct research in virtual reality.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Alienware Area 51 Base Dell  210-ADHC Computation
138cm 4K Ultra-HD LED-TV Samsung UE55JU6470U Display
SureSigns VS2+ Philips Healthcare 863278 Blood Pressure
PowerLab 8/35 AD Instruments PL3508 Skin Conductance
PowerLab 26T (LTS) AD Instruments ML4856 Heart Rate
Extreme 3D Pro Joystick Logitech 963290-0403 HID

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