Attention and Social Cognition in Virtual Reality: The effect of engagement mode and character eye-gaze

Brendan Rooney, Katalin Bálint, Thomas Parsons, Colin Burke, T O'Leary, C.T. Lee, C. Mantei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
7012 Downloads (Pure)


Technical developments in virtual humans are manifest in modern character design. Specifically, eye gaze offers a significant aspect of such design.
There is need to consider the contribution of participant control of engagement. In the current study, we manipulated participants’ engagement with an interactive virtual reality narrative called Coffee without Words. Participants sat over coffee opposite a character in a virtual café, where they waited for their bus to be repaired. We manipulated character eye-contact with the participant. For half the participants in each condition, the character made no eye-contact for the duration of the story. For the other half, the character responded to participant eye-gaze by making and holding eye contact in return. To explore how participant engagement interacted with this manipulation, half the participants in each condition were instructed to appraise their experience as an artefact (i.e., drawing attention to technical features), while the other half were introduced to the fictional character, the narrative, and the setting as though they were real. This study allowed us to explore the contributions of character features (interactivity through eye-gaze) and cognition (attention/engagement) to the participants’ perception of realism, feelings of presence, time duration, and the extent to which they engaged with the character and represented their mental states (Theory of Mind). Importantly it does so using a highly controlled yet ecologically valid virtual experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-87
Number of pages5
JournalAnnual Review of CyberTherapy and Telemedicine
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • social cognition
  • theory of mind
  • cognition
  • virtual reality
  • attention


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