Because emotional content in any art form is not an easily defined
entity, we relied on the emotional response of the participant to
determine emotional content. In other words, if the participant
responded in an emotional way, then she must have encountered emotional
content in the AVE.
(VE) have gained recognition as computer simulated worlds that can
be used for diverse applications such as training pilots for national
defense, gaming, training workers in hazardous operations, visualizing
complex information and scientific data, treating patients suffering
from post-traumatic stress, and simulating military war games. Since
the early developments of VE technology, artists have used it to
create computer based virtual environment art installations or what
we call artistic virtual environments (AVEs).
By the aesthetic experience we mean an instant in which a person
may feel "A combination of interest and pleasure and curiosity...The
moment is one of heightened attention to perception, which is what
makes it both meaningful and memorable."  For some this
means getting lost in the visual elements, and for others it is
highly emotional. It is this emotional response from the participant
that will key our analysis into the emotional content and thus the
aesthetic experience for the viewer.
to observe the aesthetic experience in relation to the emotional
content is through the flow experience.  Although complex and
multifacited, the aesthetic experience for a viewer may be characterized
by a finely tuned state of consciousness, or an experience in which
the person is in awe, intensely focused, and in pure enjoyment.
 Csikszentmihalyi also refers to this state as the flow experience.
As our research shows, this kind of response is tied to the emotional
defines the flow as an optimal experience, "when the information
that keeps coming into awareness is congruent with goals, psychic
energy flows effortlessly."  When a person is in the flow
state, she displays a number of characteristics such as intense
curiosity, intrinsic interest, a sense of control, a distorted sense
of time, and focused attention.  Although the flow state is usually
something experienced by those involved in an activity they find
stimulating, such as challenging sports, making art, and challenging
work, the same attributes may be applied to somebody who is highly
engaged and involved with enjoying music, sculptures, or other forms
we mean the extent to which the viewer feels encompassed in the
space provided by the AVE, or "the level of personal presence
within the synthetic or remote environment."  Viewers who
experience a sense of presence as they encounter an artwork, or
those who are having an aesthetic experience, also seem to work
on a different scale of time. People who are so wrapped up in the
work of art that they loose a sense of time display one aspect of
flow, and thus the aesthetic experience. They feel free from the
past and the future and experience emotional detachment from daily
routines based on time.  This is one way in which presence and
the aesthetic experience are related and perhaps indicative of each
Below we will describe two quantitative studies in which the relationship
between the aesthetic experience and psychological presence was
examined. In both studies the aesthetic experience was described
to subjects as being one that is very emotional for the participant
and that is characterized by "feeling deeply about all that
happens." Thus, our quantitative research has focused on emotional
feelings, defined above as an individual's subjective feelings.
For Study 1, 100 subjects explored a desktop version of Little's
The Dance of the Body w/o Organs. After experiencing the AVE, a
questionnaire was administered which asked subjects to rate on a
5-point Likert scale the extent to which they had an aesthetic experience.
In addition, the questionnaire included the Independent Television
Commission - Sense of Presence Inventory (ITC-SOPI), developed by
Lessiter et al., and Telegen's Absorption Scale. The
ITC-SOPI employs four factors to measure presence:
space; for example, "I felt I could have reached out and
touched things (in the displayed environment.)
for example, "I felt myself being drawn in."
validity; for example, "The content seemed believable to
effects; for example, "I felt nauseous."
scale contains 31 items that require a true or false response. High
absorption scores point toward a capacity for imaginative involvement,
openness to experience, and imperviousness to distracting events.
Absorption is viewed as a personality trait that, contingent upon
environmental cues, may predispose individuals to experiencing altered
states of reality. 
Pearson's Product Moment correlations were used to test for significant
associations between ratings on the aesthetic experience measure
and the ITC-SOPI presence scales. As predicted, significant positive
correlations between ratings on the aesthetic experience measure
and spatial presence (r = .49, p < .01), engagement (r = .47,
p < .01), and ecological validity (r = .31, p < .01) were
found to be significant. A significant correlation was not found
between aesthetic experience and negative effects. Thus, with the
exception of negative effects, all aspects of presence measured
by the ITC-SOPI were found to be associated with ratings on the
aesthetic experience scale. Because negative effects measure such
experiences as feeling dizzy or nauseous, it was not expected that
negative effects would be related to the aesthetic experience
Moment correlations were also used to test for significant associations
between ratings on the absorption scale and the ITC-SOPI presence
scales. As predicted, significant positive correlations between
the absorption scale and spatial presence (r = .19, p < .05),
engagement (r = .19, p < .05), and ecological validity (r = .17,
p < .05) were also observed. A significant correlation was not
found between the absorption scale and ratings on the aesthetic
experience measure. Thus, subjects scoring higher on the absorption
scale experienced a higher degree of presence in the AVE, but high
absorption was not related to aesthetic experience.
Our second study
was a 2 (interactive vs. non-interactive) by 2 (descriptive vs.
symbolic cognitive set) design in which there was a total of 80
subjects. To compare an AVE with traditional art, interactivity
was manipulated. AVEs are interactive by nature, but traditional
art typically does not involve interactivity. Thus, subjects either
interacted with an AVE or viewed a video file of the AVE. We were
also interested in exploring if the cognitive set of subjects would
influence subjects emotional response to the AVE (i.e., the aesthetic
experience). Cognitive set can be defined as specific mental predisposition
one uses in approaching a situation. In the descriptive cognitive
set conditions subjects were asked to focus on describing what they
see and not to be concerned with interpreting the meaning of the
displayed environment. In the symbolic cognitive set conditions
subjects were as to focus on the possible meaning and symbolism
of the displayed environment. It was predicted that a significant
interaction would be found between interactivity and cognitive set
such that ratings on the aesthetic experience would be highest in
the interactive/symbolic cognitive condition. The AVE used in Study
2 was a desktop version of Betz and Little's Invisible Guests.
interacting with the AVE or viewing the video file subjects competed
the same questionnaire that was used in Study 1. Thus subjects rated
on a 5-point Likert scale the extent to which they had an aesthetic
experience and they completed the ITC-SOPI as well as the Absorption
of Variance did not reveal a significant interaction between cognitive
set and interaction on the aesthetic experience ratings. Thus, our
hypothesis was not supported. Nevertheless, a significant main effect
for cognitive set was found; subjects in the symbolic cognitive
set conditions had higher ratings on aesthetic experience than subjects
in the descriptive cognitive set conditions.
As with Study
1, Pearson's Product Moment correlations were used to test for significant
associations between ratings on the aesthetic experience measure
and the ITC-SOPI presence scales. Positive correlations between
ratings on the aesthetic experience measure and spatial presence
(r = .57, p < .01), engagement (r = .65, p < .01), and ecological
validity (r = .27, p < .05) were found to be significant. In
addition, positive correlations between the absorption scale and
spatial presence (r = .40, p < .01), engagement (r = .48, p <
.01), and ecological validity (r = .27, p < .05) were also observed.
Contrary to the findings of Study 1 a significant correlation was
found between the absorption scale and ratings on the aesthetic
experience measure. Additional research is needed to further investigate
this discrepancy in our findings, and, for the most part, the findings
from Study 1 were replicated.
As specified in the definition of terms, we used the emotional response
of the participants to determine if they perceived emotional content
in the AVE. Because emotional content in any art form is somewhat
ambiguous, we felt that for the qualitative portion that a case-by-case
perception of emotional response by the participant was the best
indicator of emotional content. We explored the reactions from the
participants for indications of the eight primary emotions, disgust,
anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise, and sadness, along
with higher order complexities of these eight. Interestingly, most
participants, when asked directly, responded that they did not find
the experience with the AVE emotional. However, the ensuing discussions
with the participants indicated some level of emotional response
in each case.
For the qualitative
portion we analyzed ten cases. For each case, the participant experienced
the AVE with a head mounted display after encountering the set-up
in a multi-purpose building at Kent State University. We felt that
this kind of set-up would be one version of how such an artwork
would actually be installed.
During the experience,
the researcher observed each participant and was able to simultaneously
observe what he was viewing in the HMD. The researcher noted body
gesture and comments by the participant, however, did not speak
to her during the experience. After the encounter, however, the
researcher discussed the experience with each participant. In general,
each participant responded emotionally to some degree and that degree
was, in each case, correlated to her aesthetic experience and sense
of presence, which was the most significant finding. The gamut of
emotional response was great and included all of the primary emotions.
Examples of some of those responses and the level of each accompanying
aesthetic experience follow.
(P2) who was particularly involved with the AVE showed a strong
sense of negative presence coupled with a number of negative emotional
responses. Her aesthetic experience was clear through her stated
intense curiosity, a measure of flow and her sense of feeling part
of the art, a distinct characteristic of the aesthetic experience.
Her presence, however, was mostly apparent through her admitted
dizziness and sensation of vertigo, which is an ITC-SOPI measure
of negative effects. Her tense body gesture and sudden movements
suggested fear, a primary emotion. When I probed the participant
about her gestures she said that they were in reference to a lack
of control and fear that built to a crescendo when, at the end,
her basic concern was to get out of the AVE. About this turning
point she said desperately that, "my reaction was to get out
of there [the AVE]." During our discussion she revealed that
the vertigo frightened her yet she was curious to discover the source
of her disorientation.
had an aesthetic experience coupled with a powerful negative emotional
response. Art reflects the entire range of emotions and a sense
of fear and curiosity is certainly a valuable and engaging experience.
One of the more interesting things about this participant is that
her aesthetic experience, sense of presence, and her emotional response
seemed not only equally strong, but were equally negative in a full
and appealing way.
another participant (P3) had the same sort of passionate response,
but also included the humorous and joyful end of the scale. P3 had
a very high attention focus, a characteristic of flow, as indicated
by his lack of awareness of things outside of the AVE. About halfway
through his time with the art, a person with a very loud and disturbing
utility cart passed inches from P3. As we observed the participant,
we feared that his experience was interrupted, however, we saw no
indication of it. When we asked him if he recalled a time while
he was in the AVE if he heard a loud noise from the outside he responded
with, "what noise?" In addition to this and other aspects
of flow, P3 gave indications that he was highly present as he felt
that the space was believable (ITC-SOPI, naturalness) and that he
was physically in the environment (ITC-SOPI, physical space).
P3 clearly had
a strong aesthetic experience, but also displayed a high level of
emotion. Much like the last participant (P2) and most of the others,
he stated that he did not find the environment emotional. However,
during his experience he often grinned and chuckled, followed by
a few "wows," all indicating a sense of surprise, enjoyment,
and humor. When we asked him about our observation, the participant
described the scene we observed and he recalled that he found it
funny and very curious, prompting him to analyze the scene.
P3: It was kind of funny to see the bulls running around in circles
in a head. What are they doing there (chuckle)?
I: Oh the bulls!
P3: Curious, what does that have to do with the human body? Could
it be a dream or maybe a subconscious something?
other parts of the AVE that he felt were humorous and he explained
these instances with a high level of excitement in his voice as
our discussion progressed. The participant used elegant and descriptive
language to illustrate what he encountered in the AVE. He noted
intense colors and severe angles, which are both used as emotional
devices in art. In fact, part of his description included, along
with the humor, a bit of fear.
P3: It was interesting. I think it made it, with all the bright
colors and different angles, also scary. After you realize this,
everything kind of makes more sense.
of fear tied with the humor described earlier mirrors the feeling
of a movie, What Dreams May Come, which P3 associated with the AVE.
With both a semi-dark and comical slant, it is a story that explores
life after death. With Robin Williams playing a lead roll, the movie
is often amusing, but at the same time scary and sad as it addresses
first the death of a child, then the father (Robin Williams), followed
by the mother's (Annabella Sciorra) suicide. The afterlife is depicted
in a visually stunning way and the viewer gets lost in this metaphysical
aesthetic beauty while grappling with a wide emotional spectrum.
The film is highly poignant and touches on a full range of feelings.
A comparison by P3 of this nature is a clear indication of how he
perceived powerful emotional content, which seems to be tied with
his deep level of immersion as his responses to ITC-SOPI indicators
(physical space and naturalness) identified. P3 felt fear, joy,
excitement, and humor as he found the world enjoyable, funny, and
a bit scary.
earlier, all ten participants in the qualitative portion had some
level of aesthetic experience, even if only slight. Thus far we
have described two participants with a high to very high level of
immersion and emotional response. Participant number eight (P8)
was one partaker who displayed a lesser, yet highly significant
During our discussion,
it was evident that P8 was highly involved with the exploration
of the space rendering a moderate level of presence in engagement.
She also felt in the world, which is a description of the physical
space. Both engagement and physical space are ITC-SOPI dimensions.
She also described a sense of curiosity and control, which are both
measures of flow. Although she indicated these senses, the potency
was not as high. P8 mostly described the mechanisms of the space,
such as movement, and did not get into much about the art and her
experience with it or interpretation of it. Hence she had a sense
of involvement, albeit a mild one.
with what we observed on an emotional level. This participant indicated
a sense of surprise by a few gasps and body jerks during her time
in the AVE. However, when we probed her about these reactions, she
did not seem overly enthusiastic and felt that the movements were
nothing out of the ordinary. That said, she indicated excitement
over what she described as the psychedelic aspects of the AVE. In
fact, this is where she displayed the most interest and enthusiasm,
both in her voice and in the level of detail, relative to this participant.
When asked to describe her experience, she quickly and resolutely
responded that it was psychedelic, then further expanded this idea.
I: Could you
describe the experience for me?
I: Psychedelic in what way?
P8: Hearing all the different voices and the birds and how everything
was changing [seemed quite intriguing.] I wanted to understand the
voices yet I thought that they might be connected with the birds.
[From notes] This dynamic kept changing and it all happened in a
P8: Well, I think that it wasn't just a body. That's why I said
psychedelic because it was more than the body; it was the words
on the side and the voices [From notes] and birds and how it all
what she saw as psychedelic content. Psychedelic is defined as 'mind
revealing' or 'mind manifesting' and the word is used to describe
enhanced perception and imagination induced by ecstasy with or without
the use of drugs.  We do not mean to suggest that P8 was feeling
ecstatic, but the sense of heightened observation she displayed
and referred to indicate a level of excitement, perhaps confusion
and a bit of intrigue. If P8 found the world psychedelic as she
explained, then she responded on some emotional level, even if only
minimal. This is significant because it parallels her level of presence
and her aesthetic experience. P8 stated that she was a novice about
art and almost never sought viewing it in any form. She further
seemed less than enthusiastic about what art could do for her. Perhaps
the technology involved with the AVE played a role in building a
bridge for P8 to have some memorable instant with the art. Of course
we cannot say much about this speculation with these data, however,
we are probing this question in our current research. It could suggest
that meaningful AVEs filled with emotional or otherwise evocative
content might act as a bridge to encourage engagement, not only
in art but other overlooked areas. In other words, could the technology
garner enough interest from a viewer so he spends time with the
art and eventually finds that he are in fact interested in the content
as well? Conversely, could less than meaningful VEs have the opposite
effect? The participant might be attracted to the technology but
her interest could quickly fall away due to lack of intriguing content.
These are all provocative conjectures for further inquiry.
Discussion and Conclusion
The aesthetic experience is a multifaceted and complex response
to a work of art that is characteristic of a heightened sense of
awareness and a feeling of awe over the art. Part of that experience
includes an emotional reaction from the viewer that is indicative
of emotional content. Is it this emotional content that is part
of what helps a person have a fuller experience with the art? Perhaps.
However, anticipation, surprise, and fear are among the eight primary
emotions (disgust, anger, anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise,
and sadness) and are arguably experiences video game participants
feel when they are engaged with mindless and often shallow video
games. Maybe if the game is shallow then the anticipation, surprise,
and fear dissipate and the experience becomes superficial over time.
On the other hand, this level of immersion and aesthetic experience
might be valuable to some, even if not to others.
What is certain
is that emotional response from a viewer implies emotional content
in art, thus holding the participants' interest. In the qualitative
portion of the study, each participant displayed some level of presence
and some kind of aesthetic experience, even if negative. Correlated
with these factors was an equal emotional response both in the type
and intensity of it. The examples illustrated in this paper show
how the response could be negative (P2), how it could be mixed with
seeming contradictory emotions such as joy, fear, sadness, and excitement
(P3), and a very mild experience coupled with a low level of emotional
response (P8). This last case implies a possible way in which the
characteristics of an AVE might reach out to people who are otherwise
not interested in art, and more far reaching into other scenarios
such as learning. As explained in the qualitative analysis, these
data do not answer this speculation, however, they serve to encourage
further exploration into the capabilities of the medium to help
deliver a meaningful message.
A general summary
of our quantitative research would be that emotional involvement
(i.e., the aesthetic experience) is clearly related to a sense of
presence in AVEs. It should be recalled that the aesthetic experience
was described to subjects as being characterized by strong emotions.
Thus, our results indicate that emotional feelings are related to
a sense that an AVE is a physical space (i.e., special presence),
that a participant is drawn into the space (i.e., engagement), and
that the content of that space seems believable (i.e., ecological
set adopted by participants is also of importance; a focus on meaning
and symbolisms appear to heighten the emotional involvement of participants.
Perhaps a focus on meaning rather than mere description is more
likely to cue memories that are of personal significance and hence
more likely to produce subjective feelings. More research is needed
to determine how cognitive set may be instrumental in altering viewers'
emotional reaction to art and the specific mechanisms involved in
producing certain reactions. This has obvious applied value in that
statements made by artists about their work may play a role in determining
a participant's emotional reaction to the work.
In terms of
traditional versus non-traditional art we are currently designing
a study to explore this issue in greater depth. In Study 2, video
clips were used as example of traditional art and in our current
study we wish to use still images. It is possible that still images
may be just as emotionally involving as time-based media. It is
also possible that individual differences may exist in viewing still
images and the aesthetic experience. For example, experience and
education in viewing art may be a factor in determining subjective
An AVE is particularly
primed to act as a mediator for intense encounters with artworks.
The technology provides interaction and immersion that help focus
the viewer and encourage participation. Though this immersion and
response, the user is more likely to become engrossed and "get
lost" in the work of art to reach an aesthetic experience.
If the content is meaningful, the participants tend to spend more
time with the work and have a fuller experience. Part of what makes
content meaningful is the emotional dimension, which is ultimately
determined by the emotional response of the viewer. Our research
shows that there is a correlation with the aesthetic experience,
presence, and emotional response. What we need to further investigate
is if the technology of the AVE helps bring the viewer closer to
that rich, meaningful, and emotional content. To do this, we are
in the process of comparing responses from the AVE to responses
from traditional art.
experience is a state that most artists hope people will reach when
viewing their work and one that museum curators and educators attempt
to facilitate for visitors to museums. The part of the experience
that is the emotional response may be an important factor in facilitating
a rich encounter with the art. Studio art instructors also try to
make students aware of the experience if not for themselves, at
least for the audience who view their work. This is significant
beyond the art realm as such an emotional response might also aid
in an aesthetic experience with other forms of VEs that vary in
Dr. Dena Eber,
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH
Dr. Brian Betz, Kent State University/Stark Campus, Canton, OH
Gregory Little, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH
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