The VR Wunderkammer

We live in complex environments with a wide array of stimuli and opportunities for action. Immersive virtual environments (IVEs) mimic this complexity by placing participants inside richly detailed 3D digital worlds. With the “Wunderkammer”, we present a new set of IVEs to measure several facets of cognition, affect, physiology and behaviour.“The Panopticon”  measures the ability to perceive subtle visuamatthiasl changes in the environment, such as gradual shifts in the color or  shape of objects. Our data demonstrate that these observational skills are determined by both executive control and sensory thresholding.“The Affect Gallery”  places participants in a virtual museum filled with images that vary in their valenced and arousing nature. Through analyses of movement and gaze, we determine affective preferences, identifying both common biases (i.e., for positively valenced images) as well as individual differences (i.e., excitement-seeking people gravitate toward arousing images).  In “The Crowded Room”  we measure responses to others’ emotions. Participants encounter several human-like agents and our analyses of their nonverbal behaviour and physiological reactions reveal implicit responses to those agents’ emotional displays, with participants avoiding angry agents and attending closely to emotionally wrought faces. Finally, “Room 101” elicits and measures anxiety by exposing participants to a series of startling events (e.g. explosions or being surrounded by snakes). Increases in galvanic skin response and changes in heart rate variability, as well as post hoc subjective reports demonstrate significant increases in arousal and anxiety.  Together these four IVEs produce an affective, cognitive, psychophysiological, and behavioural profile of an individual in under an hour, helping us better understand how that person functions in the real world. You can read about the Wunderkammer here and here.