Effects of Presence and Challenge Variations on Emotional Engagement in Immersive Virtual Environments

Oscar I. Caldas, Oscar F. Aviles, Carlos Rodriguez-Guerrero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Citations (Scopus)


Serious games and immersive virtual reality promote emotional engagement during learning tasks, mostly by providing (1) skill-adapted challenges with performance feedback (for trial and error learning) and (2) enhanced presence (further reactions to multimodal stimuli), respectively. However, it is still unclear how each of these two strategies independently influence emotional states to engage subjects to a task. This study assessed the dimensions of emotion (valence-arousal-dominance) of 87 healthy subjects in a virtual game, assigned to 2 groups that were exposed to a different set of 5 trials: Group A experienced game variations by virtual factors affecting user's presence, whereas group B experienced levels of difficulty, affecting challenge. Emotional reports and 26 features extracted from physiological signals were statistically analyzed. Results showed that presence-based experimental conditions were able to modify the sense of arousal, whereas valence and dominance responded to challenge variation, i.e. were positively correlated with game score. Arousal is likely to increase with low sense of coexistence (social presence) and decrease with low scenario realism (physical presence). Faster breathing and higher skin conductance (SC) were detected at high challenge, whereas heart rate variability and SC increased with higher arousal. The evidence from this study suggests that both strategies can be used to separately influence dimensions of emotion, pointing out the customization of presence-based factors as a promising method to adjust emotional engagement by impacting arousal. Further research should be undertaken to identify the independent effect of single presence factors on emotional states.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9056841
Pages (from-to)1109-1116
Number of pages8
JournalIEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Emotion recognition
  • engagement
  • presence
  • psychophysiology
  • virtual reality


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