Effects of personal relevance and simulated darkness on the affective appraisal of a virtual environment

A. Toet, J.M. Houtkamp, P.E. Vreugdenhil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This study investigated whether personal relevance influences the affective appraisal of a desktop virtual environment (VE) in simulated darkness. In the real world, darkness often evokes thoughts of vulnerability, threat, and danger, and may automatically precipitate emotional responses consonant with those thoughts (fear of darkness). This influences the affective appraisal of a given environment after dark and the way humans behave in that environment in conditions of low lighting. Desktop VEs are increasingly deployed to study the effects of environmental qualities and (architectural or lighting) interventions on human behaviour and feelings of safety. Their (ecological) validity for these purposes depends critically on their ability to correctly address the user’s cognitive and affective experience. Previous studies with desktop (i.e., non-immersive) VEs found that simulated darkness only slightly affects the user’s behavioral and emotional responses to the represented environment, in contrast to the responses observed for immersive VEs. We hypothesize that the desktop VE scenarios used in previous studies less effectively induced emotional and behavioral responses because they lacked personal relevance. In addition, factors like signs of social presence and relatively high levels of ambient lighting may also have limited these responses. In this study, young female volunteers explored either a daytime or a night-time (low ambient light level) version of a desktop VE representing a deserted (no social presence) prototypical Dutch polder landscape. To enhance the personal relevance of the simulation, a fraction of the participants were led to believe that the virtual exploration tour would prepare them for a follow-up tour through the real world counterpart of the VE. The affective appraisal of the VE and the emotional response of the participants were measured through self-report. The results show that the VE was appraised as slightly less pleasant and more arousing in simulated darkness (compared to a daylight) condition, as expected. However, the fictitious follow-up assignment had no emotional effects and did not influence the affective appraisal of the VE. Further research is required to establish the qualities that may enhance the validity of desktop VEs for both etiological (e.g., the effects of signs of darkness on navigation behaviour and fear of crime) and intervention (e.g., effects of street lighting on feelings of safety) research
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1743
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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