Human interactions and personal space in collaborative virtual environments

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<ul><li><p>ORIGINAL ARTICLE</p><p>Human interactions and personal space in collaborativevirtual environments</p><p>Nasser Nassiri Norman Powell David Moore</p><p>Received: 14 October 2009 / Accepted: 20 August 2010 / Published online: 7 September 2010</p><p> Springer-Verlag London Limited 2010</p><p>Abstract As humans start to spend more time in col-</p><p>laborative virtual environments (CVEs) it becomes</p><p>important to study their interactions in such environments.</p><p>One aspect of such interactions is personal space. To begin</p><p>to address this, we have conducted empirical investigations</p><p>in a non immersive virtual environment: an experiment to</p><p>investigate the influence on personal space of avatar gen-</p><p>der, and an observational study to further explore the</p><p>existence of personal space. Experimental results give</p><p>some evidence to suggest that avatar gender has an influ-</p><p>ence on personal space although the participants did not</p><p>register high personal space invasion anxiety, contrary to</p><p>what one might expect from personal space invasion in the</p><p>physical world. The observational study suggests that</p><p>personal space does exist in CVEs, as the users tend to</p><p>maintain, in a similar way to the physical world, a distance</p><p>when they are interacting with each other. Our studies</p><p>provide an improved understanding of personal space in</p><p>CVEs and the results can be used to further enhance the</p><p>usability of these environments.</p><p>Keywords Collaborative virtual environment Anxiety Personal space</p><p>1 Introduction</p><p>The study of personal space is referred to as proxemics,</p><p>and was founded by Hall (1959). Personal space refers to</p><p>an invisible bubble that people carry around themselves</p><p>which expands and contracts depending on a number of</p><p>factors such as gender (Adler and Iverson 1974; Aiello</p><p>1987), culture (Vaksman and Ellyson 1979), age (Hayduk</p><p>1983), and relationship (Allegier and Byrne 1973). Per-</p><p>sonal space seems to be an important factor in interactions</p><p>in the physical world as it functions as a comfort zone</p><p>during interaction (Dosey and Meisels 1969; Knapp 1978;</p><p>Hall 1959) and it tends to indicate the type of relationship</p><p>between interacting individuals (Hall 1963). Sommer</p><p>(2002) found that personal space has been used in the</p><p>design of offices, stores, banks and other building types.</p><p>Sommer also notes that the American space agency</p><p>(NASA) used personal space research to enhance living in</p><p>the space station. Further, Argyle and Deans (1965)</p><p>equilibrium theory of an inverse relationship between</p><p>mutual gaze and interpersonal distance has been re-visited</p><p>by Bailenson et al. (2001, 2003) in a virtual setting. Their</p><p>studies suggest that consistent gazing leads recipients of</p><p>the gazing to seek more interpersonal distance, especially</p><p>in the case for female participants.</p><p>A personal space invasion is said to occur when</p><p>someone trespasses into another persons self-boundaries</p><p>or personal space (Sommer 1969). Felipe and Sommer</p><p>N. Nassiri (&amp;)Department of Information Technology,</p><p>Higher Colleges of Technology, Dubai Womens College,</p><p>P.O box 16062, Dubai, United Arab Emirates</p><p>e-mail:</p><p>N. Powell</p><p>Centre for Excellence in Enquiry-Based Learning (CEEBL),</p><p>The University of Manchester,</p><p>P.O. Box 88, Manchester M60 1QD, UK</p><p>e-mail:</p><p>D. Moore</p><p>Innovation North: Faculty of Information and Technology,</p><p>Leeds Metropolitan University,</p><p>Leeds LS6 3QS, UK</p><p>e-mail:</p><p>123</p><p>Virtual Reality (2010) 14:229240</p><p>DOI 10.1007/s10055-010-0169-3</p></li><li><p>(1966) found that tension levels increase hugely when</p><p>personal space is invaded. They suggest that the responses</p><p>to personal space invasion fall into two categories: block-</p><p>ing tactics (e.g. gaze averting) and anxiety reduction</p><p>responses (e.g. hair-pulling and foot-tapping). Similarly,</p><p>Hayduk (1981) found a linear relationship between intru-</p><p>sion of personal space and discomfort, and Sawada (2003)</p><p>found a significant change of the heart rate of participants</p><p>while they were approached by a stranger.</p><p>Our research is concerned with how, if at all, such</p><p>proxemics phenomena operate in virtual environments. A</p><p>virtual environment (VE) is a software system that creates</p><p>the illusion of a world that does not exist in reality. VE can</p><p>be broadly categorized into immersive and non immersive.</p><p>An immersive VE is an environment where the user is fully</p><p>immersed in it such that all his sensory input comes from</p><p>the VE. This requires the tracking of user head and body</p><p>movement through sensors. A non immersive virtual</p><p>environment uses a conventional computer monitor to</p><p>display the 3D graphics of the virtual world on standard</p><p>computers, requiring no special graphic hardware cards.</p><p>Users of these environments typically interact with the</p><p>virtual world using the keyboard and a mouse and some-</p><p>times microphone. Other input devices, such as joysticks</p><p>and 3D mice, may also be used. A Collaborative Virtual</p><p>Environment (CVE) is a special case of a virtual environ-</p><p>ment system which allows for multiple simultaneous users</p><p>and enables them to communicate with each other via their</p><p>avatars; the emphasis may be more on collaboration</p><p>between users than on simulation.</p><p>Increasingly, interactions are taking place in such non</p><p>immersive virtual environments. CVEs are being used to</p><p>support training (Oliveira et al. 2000), education (Corbit</p><p>and DeVarco 2000; Johnson et al. 1999) and community</p><p>activities (Lea et al. 1997), and it has been argued that CVE</p><p>technology offers a potentially powerful training tool for</p><p>people with autism (Cobb et al. 2000; Fabri and Moore</p><p>2005). An important issue therefore is whether personal</p><p>space retains its importance in such environments. This</p><p>paper reports on an experiment and an observational study</p><p>that we have carried out to investigate this issue.</p><p>2 Personal space in the physical world and in CVEs</p><p>Human beings have an awareness of an appropriate dis-</p><p>tance to be kept between themselves during various kinds</p><p>of interaction. The regulation of this distance is referred to</p><p>as proxemics behaviour and has been studied within</p><p>social psychology. Hall (1966) argued from observational</p><p>evidence that individuals during interaction use one of four</p><p>personal space zones. These zones are intimate (045 cm),</p><p>personal (45 cm1.20 m), social (1.203.60 m), and public</p><p>(3.60 m onward); the first three of these zones are illus-</p><p>trated in Figs. 1, 2 and 3.</p><p>According to Hall (1966), the particular zone that people</p><p>use depends on several factors which can be grouped into</p><p>two different categories, environmental and situational.</p><p>The environmental factors concern aspects of the envi-</p><p>ronment layout such as room size and shape, location of</p><p>the room (Cochran et al. 1984), room height (Cochran</p><p>and Urbanczyk 1984) and room illumination (Adams and</p><p>Zuckerman 1991).</p><p>The situational factors that influence personal space are</p><p>considered to be gender, age, culture, and relationship. For</p><p>gender, several researchers have demonstrated that,</p><p>Fig. 1 The intimate distance (0.3 m)</p><p>Fig. 2 The personal distance (1.20 m)</p><p>230 Virtual Reality (2010) 14:229240</p><p>123</p></li><li><p>compared to men, women maintain less space between</p><p>themselves (Adler and Iverson 1974; Aiello 1987; Gifford</p><p>1996; Klinge 1999). For age, Hayduk (1983) found a linear</p><p>relationship between age and interpersonal distances, the</p><p>younger a person is, the smaller personal space he/she</p><p>needs. For culture, Vaksman and Ellyson (1979) have</p><p>suggested that different cultures tend to have different sizes</p><p>of personal space bubbles. For example, Middle Eastern</p><p>peoples tend to accept closer distances than people from</p><p>Britain (Hall 1959). Concerning relationship, Allegier and</p><p>Byrne (1973) found that interpersonal distance depends</p><p>upon the individuals relationship; if they like each other or</p><p>they are friends then they tend to interact at a closer dis-</p><p>tance. Unlike the physical world, few researchers have</p><p>studied personal space in virtual environments. The results</p><p>from these researchers however do offer preliminary evi-</p><p>dence to suggest that personal space exists in both non</p><p>immersive and immersive environments.</p><p>Concerning non immersive virtual environments,</p><p>Becker and Mark (1998) conducted a study comparing the</p><p>social conventions for greeting, communication, and per-</p><p>sonal space. They found evidence to suggest that personal</p><p>space exists and that CVE users keep a certain distance</p><p>during interactions. Krikorian and colleagues (2000) also</p><p>showed that the notion of personal space exists in CVEs.</p><p>They found that a certain distance is kept and that inva-</p><p>sions of such distance produce anxiety with attempts to</p><p>re-establish the preferred distance. Jeffrey (1998) spent</p><p>approximately 25 h in ActiveWorlds, a non immersive</p><p>CVE, and recording observations of interactions between</p><p>inhabitants of this virtual environment. He noticed that</p><p>communicating avatars maintain a physical distance</p><p>between themselves. Jeffery also noticed that individuals</p><p>tend to show feelings of discomfort and anxiety in their</p><p>reactions to violation of this personal space. Similarly,</p><p>Taylor (2002) found that users often move their avatars if</p><p>their personal space has been invaded.</p><p>These results are also borne out in immersive virtual</p><p>environments: Bailenson and colleagues (2005) found that</p><p>the concept of personal space exists in an immersive virtual</p><p>environment and they used it to measure the sense of being</p><p>with someone else in the virtual environment (i.e. co-</p><p>presence). Steed and colleagues (2005), in their study about</p><p>interaction in CVE, noticed that participants usually try to</p><p>avoid walking through each other, although there were</p><p>occasional collisions with objects and their partner. How-</p><p>ever, this situation (i.e. collisions) was often quickly rec-</p><p>tified, by reversing or stepping out of the way.</p><p>The limited evidence to date suggests, then, that per-</p><p>sonal space does exist in CVEs. Little research has thus far</p><p>addressed the issue of what influences this personal space.</p><p>One exception to this is a study by Yee and colleagues</p><p>(2007), which uses an automatic script to capture: the</p><p>interpersonal distance; gender; direction of gaze; location</p><p>indoors or outdoors; and whether or not they are talking, of</p><p>hundreds of dyads of avatars interacting in Second Life, a</p><p>non immersive CVE. To begin to address the issue of what</p><p>factors influence personal space in virtual environments,</p><p>we carried out an experiment concerned with the possible</p><p>influence of avatar gender on personal space.</p><p>3 The avatar gender experiment</p><p>Several researchers have argued that proxemics behaviour</p><p>in the physical world differs for men and women. Gifford</p><p>(1987) found that males interacting with other males</p><p>require the largest interpersonal distance, followed by</p><p>females interacting with other females, and finally males</p><p>interacting with females. Similarly, Hewitt and Henley</p><p>(1987) found that men allow women to invade their per-</p><p>sonal space to the highest degree, followed by women</p><p>allowing other women, then men allowing men, and finally</p><p>women allowing men to invade their space the least.</p><p>Whilst gender clearly influences personal space in the</p><p>physical world, its influence on personal space in CVEs is</p><p>of interest. Given this, an experiment was conducted to</p><p>investigate the effect of avatar gender on personal space in</p><p>a CVE. In this experiment, participants of both genders had</p><p>their avatars personal space invaded by another avatar</p><p>(of either the same or the opposite gender), and reported</p><p>their anxiety levels through the use of a post experiment</p><p>Fig. 3 The social distance (3.40 m)</p><p>Virtual Reality (2010) 14:229240 231</p><p>123</p></li><li><p>questionnaire. The questionnaire was designed to assess</p><p>personal space invasion anxiety level (PSIAL) in the CVEs</p><p>(Nassiri et al. 2005); PSIAL is defined as the degree of</p><p>anxiety generated from an invasion of someones personal</p><p>space. The questionnaire has been constructed to address</p><p>issues corresponding to the factors seen as underlying</p><p>anxiety in the physical world, namely threat (Abbey and</p><p>Harnish 1995), discomfort (Patterson et al. 1971), and</p><p>flirtation and attraction (Abbey and Harnish 1995). Each</p><p>factor (i.e. threat, discomfort, and flirtation) was allocated</p><p>six questions. A fuller justification of the questionnaire is</p><p>given elsewhere (Nassiri 2006) and a copy is available</p><p>from the corresponding author.</p><p>The experiment involved 40 participants (20 males and</p><p>20 females), each of whom had their avatars personal</p><p>space invaded by the avatar of a further participanta</p><p>confederatewho was acting under instructions from</p><p>the researchers. The participants were Lebanese students</p><p>from the same university in Lebanon (i.e. American Uni-</p><p>versity of BeirutAUB) and were all between 20 and</p><p>23 years of age. The experiment also involved 10 con-</p><p>federates (5 males and 5 females) which were also drawn</p><p>from the same university but were unknown to the partic-</p><p>ipants. The participants were divided into eight groups of</p><p>five participants each; five of these groups consisted only</p><p>of male participants, the other four only of female partic-</p><p>ipants. Each member of the group was embodied into the</p><p>virtual environment by using either a male avatar or female</p><p>avatar depending on the participants actual gender.</p><p>The confederates were also divided into two groups of</p><p>five; one group consisted only of males, the other only of</p><p>females. Each member of the confederate group was</p><p>assigned one of the avatars, depicted in Fig. 6, based on the</p><p>confederates actual gender. The confederate and partici-</p><p>pant avatars chosen wore typical American University of</p><p>Beirut (AUB) student attire, which is the attire mainly used</p><p>in the participants cultural context. The genders of the</p><p>avatars are clearly apparent by their appearance and would</p><p>be instantly recognised by the participants.</p><p>The invasions took place in a non immersive virtual</p><p>environment built specifically for the experiment by the</p><p>authors, using ActiveWorlds (</p><p>Activeworlds is a VE that is used by a large number of</p><p>users who can communicate through text messages. The</p><p>environment does not support facial expression or eye gaze,</p><p>and there is no collision detection mechanism. Figure 4</p><p>shows a room in this environment and Figs. 5 and 6 show the</p><p>avatars adopted by the participants and confederates,</p><p>respectively. To standardize the behaviour between the</p><p>confederates, a script and action plan were devised that all</p><p>the confederates followed when they interacted with the</p><p>participants avatars. While the confederate avatar and the</p><p>participant avatar were touring the house, the confederates</p><p>avatar maintained a social distance from the participant</p><p>avatar. Then the confederate asked the participant to read a</p><p>sign in the virtual house. When the participant avatar was</p><p>reading the sign, the confederate moved his/her avatar in</p><p>front of the participant avatar, initially to the personal</p><p>zone and then to the intimate zone of the participant, and</p><p>stayed in that position for exactly 10 s.</p><p>The literature review in Sect. 2 showed that there are</p><p>several factors that influence personal space in the physical</p><p>world such as age, cult...</p></li></ul>


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