A novel Quantitative Assessment of engagement in virtual reality: Task-unrelated thought is reduced compared to 2D videos
Recent meta-analytic evidence suggests that students’ minds are likely to wander off-task frequently, regardless of the learning modality; yet virtual reality (VR) has been notably unexplored in this space. VR may present an opportunity to mitigate task-unrelated thought (TUT; the most common operationalization of mind wandering) because it minimizes audio-visual distractions and increases feelings of immersion. The current study tested this possibility by analyzing TUT frequency reports from 118 participants as they learned about climate change in one of two conditions: a 360° video in VR versus a traditional video on a 2D monitor. Participants answered momentary thought probes at pseudo-random intervals throughout the video and eye-gaze was recorded in both modalities. Results indicated that participants were less likely to experience TUT in the VR condition compared to non-VR (B = 0.49; p = 0.02). Consistent with prior research, TUT was also negatively related to posttest performance (B = −0.05; p = 0.01). Finally, TUT mediated the effect between learning modality on posttest performance, such that participants in VR experienced lower TUT and subsequently scored higher on the posttest (B = 0.19; p = 0.03). We also present exploratory analyses on how gaze patterns differed across modalities as well as how gaze was related to instances of TUT.