Date of Award

May 2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

School of Computing

Committee Member

Sophie Jörg

Committee Member

Shaundra B. Daily

Committee Member

Larry F. Hodges

Committee Member

Andrew Robb

Abstract

Virtual applications are now a dominant commercial and social platform. Sixty-seven percent of households own a gaming device, and eighty-one percent of the United States population has a social media profile. Now, virtual reality appears to be the next technological frontier that will take over mainstream markets. New, low-cost devices for virtual reality or mixed reality such as the Oculus Rift, Sony's PlayStation VR, or Samsung's Gear VR are already available or have been announced and might even outperform previous high-cost systems. With the prevalence of this technology, it is important to know how it influences us. One common factor that has remained popular in virtual applications throughout its evolution are characters. How does the appearance of characters affect us in virtual applications and virtual reality? Towards understanding these effects, this research presents findings on results when character model appearance is altered in an educational application and in self-representative avatars. Results from our experiments show that allowing character customization in an educational software results in higher learning outcomes for participants. We also find that when controlling self-avatars, some participants can feel that they own any virtual hand model given to them in virtual reality. In addition, we find that participants generally feel the strongest ownership for virtual hands that appear human-like. Finally, we find that participants experience stronger feelings of ownership and realism when they are able to control virtual hands directly rather than with a hand-held device, and that the virtual reality task must first be considered to determine which modality and hand size are the most applicable. These results contribute to knowledge for how to best create characters for users in virtual applications and environments.

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