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Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2014 May;17(5):310-6. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2013.0472. Epub 2014 Mar 7.

Afraid to be there? Evaluating the relation between presence, self-reported anxiety, and heart rate in a virtual public speaking task.

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  • 11 Department of Applied Psychology: Health, Development, Enhancement and Intervention, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna , Vienna, Austria .

Abstract

The link between anxiety and presence in a virtual environment (VE) is still a subject of an unresolved debate, with little empirical research to support theoretical claims. Thus, the current study analyzed presence, self-reported anxiety, and a physiological parameter (heart rate [HR]) in a sample of 30 high anxious and 35 low anxious participants. Both groups delivered a 5 minute speech in a virtual lecture hall. Results indicate no mediating influences of presence on group differences in self-reported state anxiety during the speech, but point toward negative correlations between state anxiety and the iGroup Presence Questionnaire (IPQ) scales "sense of being there" and "realism." Furthermore, HR was found to be unrelated to self-reported presence. Only the IPQ scale "spatial presence" showed a marginally significant influence on group differences in state anxiety. The present results support the assumption that presence and anxiety are logically distinct, meaning that presence does not directly influence the intensity of an emotion felt in a VE. Rather, it constitutes a precondition for an emotion to be at all elicited by a VE. Also, HR has proven to be no adequate substitute measure for presence, since it only assesses anxiety not presence. It may, however, mediate the interplay between trait anxiety and state anxiety. Possible implications of the current findings are discussed alongside the problem of using presence questionnaires that seem to be prone to subjective bias (i.e., participants confusing presence and emotion).

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