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Study Finds Realism a Key Factor in Driving Engagement with Virtual Reality Videos

an older man looks at his computer screen
Photo credit: Beth Macdonald

For Immediate Release

A recent study finds that realism is a key factor in determining whether viewers engage with virtual reality (VR) videos – and that engagement is itself a key factor in determining whether viewers are interested in watching VR videos in the future.

The researchers focused on VR videos that offer a 360-degree view of a given scene that viewers can navigate on conventional video screens; VR headsets were not required.

For the study, researchers surveyed 1,422 study participants located in the United States, all of whom had previous experience with virtual reality videos. Participants were asked a series of questions designed to explore both which factors drew them to VR videos and what elements of the videos increased viewer engagement.

“We found there were two aspects of virtual reality videos that were the most powerful predictors of whether viewers enjoyed VR videos and engaged with their content,” says Yang Cheng, first author of the study and an associate professor of communication at North Carolina State University. “Specifically, we found that realism and enjoyment were the key variables here. Another variable that contributed to user engagement was whether the VR videos were part of an interactive platform that allowed users to establish a sense of community.

“Our study is the first to identify that realism in these videos is a key variable in driving viewer engagement,” Cheng says. “And the more engaged viewers were, the more likely they were to want to view additional VR videos in the future.”

The researchers note that their findings can be used by video developers to improve user engagement and encourage continued use of immersive videos.

The paper, “Shared Virtual Reality Experiences during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Exploring the Gratifications and Effects of Engagement with Immersive Videos,” is open access and appears in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The paper was co-authored by Yuan Wang of the City University of Hong Kong and by Wen Zhao of Fairfield University.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Shared Virtual Reality Experiences during the COVID-19 Pan-demic: Exploring the Gratifications and Effects of Engagement with Immersive Videos”

Authors: Yang Cheng, North Carolina State University; Yuan Wang, City University of Hong Kong; and Wen Zhao, Fairfield University

Published: April 21, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

DOI: 10.3390/ijerph19095056

Abstract: The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and recent economic recession have been impacting many people’s mental health. The experience of social distance created new barriers for people who already reported symptoms of depression or anxiety. Within this circumstance, new technologies, such as immersive virtual reality (VR) videos, could serve as a useful tool for facilitating interactions, emotional sharing, and information processing within a virtual environment. In this study, researchers aimed to enrich the uses and gratifications approach and the information processing during the pandemic by focusing on effects of 360-degree VR videos. Through employing survey research with 1,422 participants located in the U.S. and the structural equation modeling for data analysis, this study found that five types of gratifications sought, including utilitarian (i.e., navigation), hedonic (i.e., enjoyment), sensual (i.e., realism), social (i.e., community), and symbolic (i.e., coolness) gratifications, significantly motivated users to adopt such immersive videos. Simultaneously, data demonstrated these five types of gratifications could influence users’ cognitive engagement on virtual content. In addition, such VR engagement further facilitated users’ positive attitudes toward and continued intentions of using immersive videos. Findings also provided practical implications for COVID-19 global recovery.

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