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Comparing text-only and virtual reality discrete choice experiments of neighbourhood choice

Patterson, Zachary, Darbani, Javad Mostofi, Rezaei, Ali, Zacharias, John, Yazdizadeh, Ali
Landscape and urban planning 2017 v.157 pp. 63-74
landscapes, marketing, surveys, urban planning
Stated Preference (SP) surveys are used in many disciplines including: marketing; transportation-, environmental- and health-economics; and landscape and urban planning. The Landscape Preference Study (LPS) is a common SP technique in landscape and urban planning, defined by the presentation of landscapes through images, something uncontroversial in this literature. The use of visual attributes in SP surveys in the marketing and economics literatures has, however, aroused controversy. Potential benefits are evoked (greater realism in tasks), but drawbacks (e.g. unintended information affecting respondent choices) are also discussed. At the same time, the use of visualization and simulation is said to be “outstripping” understanding of how best to use them in planning contexts. We adopt “the economic approach” to LPSs (the Discrete Choice Experiment) to better understand how presentational methods affect results in the context of neighborhood choice. We compare two experiments; one administered as a virtual reality simulation, and the other as a text-only survey. We conclude that in essence, respondent preferences in the text-only survey were based on respondent mental images of building types, whereas in the visual survey, preferences were based on the displayed images. As such, we propose that LPS visuals are best employed when the visual representations provided to respondents are accurate descriptions of possible outcomes, as they could be in public consultations related to landscape and urban planning. In so doing we make one step toward Lovett et al.’s (2015) call to help evaluate the increasing number of options available in landscape visualization.