A new framework for understanding user presence in virtual reality: from technical to human factors
: (Alternative Format Thesis)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Due to its importance in almost any applications, the sense of presence in virtual reality (VR) has received considerable attention from the research and industry communities alike. Since the appearance of head-mounted-displays (HMDs) a large portion of the improvements in user VR experience has focused on hardware and technical advancement. Another body of research is emerging, however, which suggests that user characteristics may have a major role in determining whether presence in VR will be achieved. Amongst these characteristics are elements that are purely created in the human mind, such as user expectations about their experience and the emotions felt during VR exposure. Other characteristics stand at the border between technical and human factors. These can be the perspective (viewpoint of the user) or agency (ability to interact with the VE) afforded by the VR system, which originate from technical features but are ultimately interpreted through human perception and cognition. The present thesis aims to investigate which users' factors determine presence. Hence, Chapter 1 presents an in depth literature review of the most valued and studied factors that could affect the formation of presence in HMD VR. Due to their relevance within VR content and previous research remaining largely inconclusive, the thesis will focus on the role of emotion, agency and perspective and how their interactions affect the presence-creation process. The first study presented in Chapter 2 will aim to understand how user expectations about the levels of emotions felt during VR experiences can impact presence, which will test the applicability of a novel model of presence to VR HMDs. Secondly, this study will investigate the effect of more and less arousing emotions on presence. Chapter 3 will then present a study investigating the effect of perspective afforded to the user on presence, as moderated by emotions. Finally, Chapter 4 will present a third study assessing the role of agency on presence, for both positive and negative emotions. Results from these three studies offer a new understanding of the complex role played by emotional intensity, emotional valence, prospective and agency in presence. This thesis will thus provide a new understanding of the role played by the human mind in the process of forming the sensation of presence in HMD VR.
Date of Award22 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorEamonn O'Neill (Supervisor) & Karin Petrini (Supervisor)


  • VR
  • presence
  • emotion
  • agency
  • perspective
  • model

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