The Effects of Immersion and Real-World Distractions on Virtual Social Interactions

Oh, C., Herrera, F., & Bailenson, J.N. (2019) The Effects of Immersion and Real-World Distractions on Virtual Social Interactions, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 22 (6), 365-372.


This study explores the independent and joint effects of immersion and real-world distractions (a ringing cell phone) on cognitive (i.e., recognition and recall), affective valence, and interpersonal outcomes (i.e., interpersonal liking and communication satisfaction) as well as general feelings of presence (social presence and telepresence) during a virtual experience. Participants interacted with a virtual agent in an immersive virtual environment or nonimmersive virtual environment under three different levels of real-world distractions (i.e., no distraction, passively being exposed to the sound of a ringing cell phone, and actively responding to ringing cell phone). Increased immersion had a positive effect on telepresence, but a negative effect on recognition and recall; immersion did not have a significant effect on social presence. Real-world distractions had a negative effect on recognition, recall, and social presence, but did not affect telepresence or affective valence. Participants who were actively distracted performed more poorly on the recall measure and reported lower levels of social presence than their passively distracted counterparts. These findings suggest that (a) increased immersion will not uniformly improve social virtual reality experiences and (b) more research is needed on whether and how real-world events should be integrated into virtual environments.