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Enhancing User Experience with Olfaction in Virtual Reality

Braun, M. H. (2019). Enhancing User Experience with Olfaction in Virtual Reality. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Human experiences in the physical world are inherently multi-modal, in that we rely on all our senses to perceive our environment, yet experiences within virtual reality (VR) are mainly restricted to our primary senses of vision and audition. The sense of smell (olfaction) has been shown to strongly affect human emotions, memories, and behaviour, but there have only been few attempts to integrate olfactory stimuli into virtual environments. This thesis investigates the addition of olfaction as a modality for VR to enhance user experiences through odour emitting virtual objects and olfactory notifications. As part of this research, I introduce a systematic methodology for odour selection, and develop an off-the-shelf, affordable device for odour display (olfactory display) for VR head-mounted displays. My research begins with a preliminary study examining the effect of olfactory stimuli on participants’ emotional perception of digital images, which was used as a test-bed for gaining insights into the use of olfactory displays and olfaction in a HCI setting. I then report on three empirical studies that examine how olfactory cues can enhance user experience in VR in terms of three key metrics: the quality of experience, task performance, and the sense of presence, which is the feeling of ‘being there’ in the virtual environment. The results from these three studies indicated that congruent, pleasant odours could significantly enhance quality of experience, improve task performance, and to varying degrees increase the sense of presence in VR. Incongruent, pleasant odours however often caused confusion among participants and appeared not to have a significant effect on the sense of presence but were able to improve task performance. The third of these studies also examined the use of odour notifications to enhance user experiences in VR. Participants were able to perceive and understand the olfaction-based notifications, which produced an increase in the sense of presence, quality of experience, as well as task performance. Overall, this thesis’ findings support the notion that olfaction can enhance user experience in VR and it also draws attention to the importance of a systematic odour selection methodology.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Science & Technology > School of Science & Technology Doctoral Theses
School of Science & Technology
School of Science & Technology > Computer Science
School of Science & Technology > Computer Science > Human Computer Interaction Design
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