In our previous stories, we have continuously discussed infinite possibilities where a virtual reality (VR) can be utilized as a useful tool to explore the mind of the users. It becomes extraordinarily powerful when combined with technology, such as eye-tracking, EEG analysis, and neuroimaging, that in all tries to understand and unveil things originally hidden deep inside human’s mind. In particular, the latest research review — “Combination of Virtual Reality and Eye tracking: Explore the Mind of Consumers” — was about the development of a gaze-based assistant system in a virtual supermarket. The proposed system was able to provide individualized recommendations based on a consumer’s preference, which was determined by the customer’s attention level.
How can we know deep psychology inside preference?
The results of the previous research is inspirational as it has not only shown that the virtual supermarket can induce quite an active interaction between human and technology but also inferred that the customers’ in-time preference can be measured and adapted to the virtual environment. Yet, there is still a pending issue inside. Why did the consumer stare at a particular product longer than other products, did he like it more or was it rather because he strongly disliked it? What kind of feeling, or true reaction occurred inside his mind when he searched through granola of multiple choice? The bare suggestion that eye-tracking technology provides itself, though powerful, still cannot tell us what specifically people have in their minds.
The combined use of VR and EEG: Explore preference
The preference, or liking, can be rephrased into the term “affective response,” and it belongs to human emotions that is so much complicated than to be simply defined and determined by the superficial gaze information. On contrary, our brain which actively reacts to all sorts of stimuli contains much information about what we see and how we feel. Therefore, in this week, we decided to move inside of a research that aimed at investigating deeper nature of preference in a virtual reality (VR) through the use of electroencephalography (EEG) — “Affective response to architecture — investigating human reaction to spaces with different geometry.”
Investigating emotional response to spaces
The field of architecture is one of the most prominent areas that deal with the interaction between humans and the environment. As people react differently to various spaces they enter into, architects should be sensitive to those feelings in order to construct a space which is not only suitable for its use but also attractive to the mind of the users. In other words, searching for the right way to design an architectural space is enduring, but fundamental to most of the architects. A lot of people assume that it is the designers’ responsibility and ability to figure out the perceptual and cognitive influence of architectural space on people. However, much can be identified with the help of scientific measurement and analysis than merely with an individual’s insight. Hence, the research aimed at investigating emotional and cognitive reactions that are generated by various types of spaces through the quantification and measurement of EEG.
In order to achieve the stated objective, the research team has conducted two phases of the experiment. In the first stage, the study centered upon observing human behavior in a virtual environment through analyzing the participants’ self-assessment result. But above all, why did they choose VR? When designing an experiment setup, there always exists a trade-off between keeping control of experimental variables and presenting a realistic environment. In this situation, the virtual reality allows to manipulate experimental controls while maintaining design features in constant. Therefore, the research has chosen the virtual environment as a substitute for reality so as to overcome the trade-off. Then how did they design the virtual environment to observe human reactions to different types of architectural spaces?
They have built four types of virtual environments: a square symmetrical space (Sq); a round-domed symmetrical space (Ro); a sharp-edged asymmetrical space with tilted surfaces (the surfaces refer to walls and a ceiling) (Sh); a curvy-shaped asymmetrical space with rounded smooth surfaces with no corners (Cu). The primary intention why they designed four different types of spaces in such way was to examine how people feel about interior with complex forms that have breaks and curves (Sh and Cu), as compared to a simple structure (Sq and Ro).
The participants were asked to enter each of the four spaces by walking via joystick; they passed through the corridor, opened the door, explored the space and left after they finished their exploration. After that, they filled out a questionnaire about their experience in each of the space, and rated their preference to it on a 5 point Likert scale.
In the second stage of the experiment, the new framework of examining physiological responses of humans to architectural space geometry has been adapted. Having the participants wear a wireless EEG device during the investigation, the same trial conducted in the first stage was held again to analyze the participants’ brain activity. In other words, the subjects walked through and explored the space as they did in the first experiment, but this time with wearing Emotive EPOC device.
VR experiment with SURVEY versus EEG
The results of the two experiments were revealed to be complementary. The first experiment could suggest that there exist some differences of what people felt about each space in terms of efficiency, aesthetic point of view, safety, pleasantness and level of interests. In addition, it was inferred from the respondents that participants who have no expertise in the field of design have a different tendency of space preference from those who work as designers.
Then how was the result of the second experiment, the enhanced version of the first one with a reinforced analysis methodology? The participants’ brainwaves were successful in directly proving the different reactions of spaces which were indicated in the first experiment. What is more notable, however, is that the EEG examination could suggest an additional insight.
The figure below illustrates the NPC 1 and NPC 2 mapping of a participant, dots of each color indicate four different kinds of spaces. The first graph is based on a 10-s recording window while the second one focused on the first 2-s of exposure to a certain space. When looking more information and making comparisons between both of the two graphs, it is observed that different reactions to each space can be well distinguished in the early time window. That is, the adaptation and emotional response to an area occur within the short period. Besides, this finding is in line with other studies on eye-tracking which revealed that viewers of an artwork spend their first 2-s in doing a sweep of the image and grasping the overall gist.
In a nutshell, the experiments conducted in virtual reality were able to provide a better understanding of affective response to architectural space, which can consequently contribute to building a better design that the users are in favor of. Furthermore, it was indicated that the use of EEG can visually show different physiological reactions in a more explicit way. When compared with the analysis of a subjective survey result, the brainwave can allow the researchers to get real time information about what happens in the users’ mind while they explore and adjust to a particular space.
Explore user mind with EEG in VR
To sum up, even the identical experiments and researches will yield qualitatively different results and contributions depending on the analysis methodology. In order to get a more profound understanding of humans and how they feel, think about and react to their surroundings, it is highly crucial to carefully collect and investigate physiological data. Electroencephalogram which has relatively high applicability can be a proper choice to a number of researchers.
If you are interested in trying out your research in VR and want to understand the users’ brain activities in the environment, visit our website www.looxidlabs.com and get relevant information of our newly released product, LooxidVR. This mobile-based VR headset is the world first to provide an interface for both the brain and the eyes through its embedded EEG sensors and an eye camera.
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- Affective response to architecture — investigating human reaction to spaces with different geometry | Architectural Science Review
- Visual interest in Pictorial art During an Aesthetic Experience | Spatial Vision
- In the eye of the Beholder: Employing Statistical Analysis and eye Tracking for Analyzing Abstract Paintings | Proceedings of the 20th ACM international conference on multimedia