Does the level of visual detail in virtual environments affect the user’s spatial knowledge?
Researchers studying environmental perception and cognition in general, and human spatial ability in particular, have been using virtual reality as a promising tool. However, the virtual environments used in these studies showed variances in the levels of visual detail they offer. Yet, little is known about whether the level of visual detail in a virtual environment affects people’s spatial performance. If the level of visual detail positively or adversely affects people’s spatial performance, then researchers using virtual environments to investigate human spatial performance should account for the level of visual detail besides other factors of interest. This study aimed to compare people’s spatial performance in two virtual environments that varied in their levels of visual detail (‘low’ and ‘high’). Part of the Ohio State University Campus, US was simulated with a three-dimensional computer-modeling program, GTK Radiant. QUAKE III ARENA, a real-time three-dimensional environment-generator game engine, produced perspective views through the simulation. Forty-nine students studying in Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir, Turkey participated in the study. After a learning phase, participants were asked to (1) estimate the direction to two nonvisible signs, (2) estimate the straight-line and walking distances to two nonvisible signs, and (3) draw a sketch map of the environment. Results showed that the spatial knowledge acquired in the ‘low’ and ‘high’ visual detail virtual environments were similar. If people’s spatial behavior does not change in virtual environments with ‘low’ and ‘high’ visual details, then researchers, designers, and planners could save time and energy in developing virtual environments to understand human behavior.
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