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The utilization of immersive virtual environments for the investigation of environmental preferences

Birenboim, Amit, Dijst, Martin, Ettema, Dick, de Kruijf, Joost, de Leeuw, Geert, Dogterom, Nico
Landscape and urban planning 2019 v.189 pp. 129-138
cognition, image analysis, questionnaires
The article discusses the feasibility and benefits of using immersive virtual environments (IVEs) to gauge the environmental preferences of individuals. The discussion is based on the results of a stated preference conjoint experiment employed within an IVE. In the experiment, participants were asked to rate and rank their cycling experience during and after they had cycled a few virtual routes with changing environmental characteristics. Participants repeated the experiment a week later to allow the examination of the test–retest reliability of the method. Presence level—namely the extent to which one has an actual sense of being in the simulated world—was computed using the ITC–SOPI questionnaire. The scores were compared with an equivalent, more traditional, still images conjoint task that was administrated to a control group. Presence level was significantly higher in the IVE compared to the still images experiment. This finding supports the notion that IVEs may yield greater external validity due to their higher level of realism. Relatively low test–retest reliability scores between the two IVE experiment rounds were obtained. This might be explained by the participants’ low familiarity with IVEs, which in the first round diverted their attention from the conjoint task itself. In contrast, the test–retest scores of post-IVE evaluations, which are considered more cognitive in their nature, were satisfactory. Implications of the experiments and suggestions for future research are discussed.