Attention is the ability to actively process specific information within one’s environment over longer periods of time while disregarding other details. Attention is an important process that contributes to overall cognitive performance from performing every day basic tasks to complex work activities. The use of virtual reality (VR) allows study of the attention processes in realistic environments using ecological tasks. To date, research has focused on the efficacy of VR attention tasks in detecting attention impairment, while the impact of the combination of variables such as mental workload, presence and simulator sickness on both self-reported usability and objective attention task performance in immersive VR has not been examined. The current study tested 87 participants on an attention task in a virtual aquarium using a cross-sectional design. The VR task followed the continuous performance test paradigm where participants had to respond to correct targets and ignore non-targets over 18 min. Performance was measured using three outcomes: omission (failing to respond to correct targets), commission errors (incorrect responses to targets) and reaction time to correct targets. Measures of self-reported usability, mental workload, presence and simulator sickness were collected. The results showed that only presence and simulator sickness had a significant impact on usability. For performance outcomes, simulator sickness was significantly and weakly associated with omission errors, but not with reaction time and commission errors. Mental workload and presence did not significantly predict performance. Our results suggest that usability is more likely to be negatively impacted by simulator sickness and lack of presence than performance and that usability and attention performance are linked. They highlight the importance of considering factors such as presence and simulator sickness in attention tasks as these variables can impact usability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1967-1983
Number of pages17
JournalVirtual Reality
Issue number3
Early online date24 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

The equipment used for the study (Nesplora Aquarium VR system) was funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 Program (Grant 733901, from Project VRMIND—Virtual Reality-Based Evaluation of Mental Disorders). The funding source
had no involvement in the research and preparation of the article.

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author, Alexandra Voinescu, upon reasonable request


  • Attention
  • Mental workload
  • Performance
  • Presence
  • Simulator sickness
  • Usability
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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