How to Get There When You Are There Already? Defining Presence in Virtual Reality and the Importance of Perceived Realism

Weber, Stefan; Weibel, David; Mast, Fred W. (2021). How to Get There When You Are There Already? Defining Presence in Virtual Reality and the Importance of Perceived Realism. Frontiers in psychology, 12(628298), pp. 1-10. Frontiers Research Foundation 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.628298

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The aim of the current opinion paper is to challenge the current definition of presence in the context of virtual reality (VR). Opticians do not only measure visual acuity but also the visual field, stereoscopic vision, and color vision. In the same vein, presence researchers are encouraged to not only measure the experience of “being there” in the sense of attentional allocation to the virtual environment (VE), but also the perceived realism of the VE. Perceived realism is the result of an evaluation of the virtual world regarding (1) the subjective degree of reality of the depicted environment and (2) its overall plausibility and credibility. Thus, the sense of presence in a VE is conceived as a composite of being there and perceived realism. When in VR, a user will inevitably compare the look of virtual objects to real-world objects and judge the level of congruence (Sutcliffe and Gault, 2004). The user evaluates the plausibility and naturalness of the depicted world as well as the ease of interaction within the VE by answering questions such as: is there a shadow cast? Are the proportions of objects correct? Does the environment correspond to my own movements? Does my virtual body match the proportions of my real body? Just like the visual features, a story and its characters are also evaluated in terms of consistency and plausibility (Park et al., 2010; Gorini et al., 2011): are the consequences of actions plausible? Is the story coherent in itself? Does the causal sequence of events make sense? The answers to these questions define the degree of perceived realism. Perceived realism leads to the experience that a user not only feels surrounded by the VE, but rather has a compelling sense of reality and in extreme cases even forgets that he or she is wearing a head-mounted display (HMD).

Previous papers on presence are based on the assumption that realism enhances presence (e.g., Heeter, 1992; Welch et al., 1996; Lombard and Ditton, 1997; Bystrom et al., 1999) suggested a conceptualization of presence as the degree to which a medium seems realistic. Interestingly, perceived realism is nevertheless not part of the most widely used presence definitions. It is either a possible trigger of presence or is blended in with the term being there. The conceptualization of presence as the experience of being there in a mediated environment dominates current presence definitions. Being there is strongly associated with attentional allocation and the sensation of being surrounded and absorbed by a mediated world. However, we claim that presence in VR requires much more than just being there. With the widespread use of immersive VR technology, it has become an easy task to absorb users in a VE. Thus, judgments about the realism of the VE become increasingly important. Being there and perceived realism are both important but yet different aspects of presence. They need to be combined in order to (1) adequately describe and define the experience of presence and (2) to obtain an appropriate and more complete assessment of presence in VR. Thus, theories and measures of presence need to be extended and establish perceived realism as an important domain besides being there.
Presence in VR as a Two-Dimens

Item Type:

Journal Article (Further Contribution)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Cognitive Psychology, Perception and Methodology

UniBE Contributor:

Weber, Stefan (A), Weibel, David, Mast, Fred


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology




Frontiers Research Foundation




David Weibel

Date Deposited:

14 Jul 2021 16:42

Last Modified:

29 Mar 2023 23:37

Publisher DOI:


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