Reality-virtuality continuum: Enhancing perceptual adaptation of users in virtual environments

Virtual environments have the qualities of affecting the perceptual dynamics of users by offering highly immersive and interactive experiences. Especially the transition between multiple realities, such as from augmented reality to virtual reality, can leave users with dramatic perceptual changes. The concept of the Reality-Virtuality Continuum was introduced by Milgram & Kishino in 1995, which attempted to define the different levels of immersion and interaction of users in virtual and augmented reality technologies. In this context, the reality-virtuality continuum defines a scale from reality to virtual worlds, in which there is mixed reality between these two extreme points (see Figure). At the opposite end of the spectrum, it is possible to find the real world, where the users are directly exposed to the actual physical environment that surrounds them. As users move along the continuum towards virtual reality, their perception strives to adapt from the accepted reality to the completely computer-generated environment, where they might notice an increased level of immersion and presence.


The Reality Virtuality Continuum: This sample was prepared for illustrative purposes. Adapted from Augmented reality: A class of displays on the reality-virtuality continuum, by Milgram et al. 1995.

This spectrum allows us to discern the possible changes in perception when users are in different levels of virtual or augmented reality. Based on the reality-virtuality continuum, researchers can find and explore the differences in how a user’s perception and experience changes as they move along the continuum. As virtual and augmented reality technologies can influence the perceptual mechanisms of users during the virtual transitions, barriers among the real world and virtual reality may easily get blurred. For instance, augmented reality renders the virtual objects to co-exist with the real world that causes people to think of the physical and digital spaces as a single universe, which, in turn, leads them to develop a certain visual blindness that could lead to a degree of commodification of the way they perceive space and objects. Virtual objects may also be perceived by them to be part of their physical space. This may stimulate their sense of presence and their attention to a specific environment, or end up with some negative results deriving from considering virtual objects entirely real (Skarbez et al., 2021).

In virtual reality, users find themselves in completely computer-generated surroundings; and hence, their perception is entirely based on the virtual world without any elements belonging to the real world. While immersed in this technological setting, they may undergo a total perceptual change, which may be concluded as believing that they are in a whole new reality altogether, or simply taking the shadow for substance. Fortunately, the ability to navigate among these different realities can be enhanced by different technological advancements appealing to multimodal stimuli, including 3D sound and haptic capability. However, as users navigate between different virtualities, they often get disoriented from the overall experience if a disruptive transition occurs in the sphere (Rahimi et al., 2020; Cmentowski et al., 2023). This disorientation can negatively affect the overall quality of the immersive experience while decreasing the level of sense of the presence of users.

We use various visual cues in virtual environments, such as employing a virtual gate or archway to cross between virtual environments, to ease the perceptual differentiation and adaptation process for users while transitioning between different realities (see: Hu et al., 2000; Steinicke et al., 2009) Our framework supports researchers and virtual environment designers in creating smoother transitions between virtual experiences by decreasing the likelihood of disrupting users’ sense of presence, whereas increasing the quality of virtual immersion.



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