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It has long been argued that interactions in a virtual environment (VE) enhance the sense of presence. On the basis of a three-component model of presence, we specify this hypothesis and argue that the mental representation of possible actions should enhance spatial presence, and to a lesser extent involvement and realness of a VE. We support this hypothesis in three studies. A correlational study shows an effect of self-reported interaction possibilities on spatial presence only. A first experimental study shows that possible self-movement increases spatial presence and realness. A second experimental study shows that even the illusion of interaction, with no actual interaction taking place, increases spatial presence.
In the correlational study, self-reports of the amount of possible interactions in a VE correlated with spatial presence, but not with the other two components. In the first experimental study, the possibility to interact with the VE increased spatial presence, and also judged realness. In this study, the possibility to interact with the VE was a very fundamental one. Namely the possibility to move oneself freely through the VE, as opposed to seeing a film-like sequence on the HMD. In our view, this could explain that the manipulation had also an effect on realness. In the second experimental study, the mere expectation that artificial characters in the VE could be interacted with increased spatial presence, but not the other two presence components. In order to create high spatial presence, allow the users to choose their own point of view in the VE and to navigate their virtual body, give them possibilities to interact with objects in the VE, and enact simple interactions with virtual characters or other real users. However, it should be noted that what counts are the users representations of these interactions, not their objective availability per se. So, if the interaction technique for moving the body is not understood, or, in the terms of our cognitive model, if it is not represented as an action possible in the VE, then it will have no effects. The flip side of this coin is that the mere pretense of an interaction possibility, when it is believed by the users, will likely enhance spatial presence, as it did in study 3. In study 2, we also observed an effect of self-movement on judged realness of the VE.