Virtual View: designing the first experiment

I had an idea what I wanted to research in my first experiment after reading the different articles. Looking at the end users, frequent visitors to hospitals and the chronically ill, I want the final piece to be first and foremost a pleasant and relaxing experience. It would be nice if there was an actual physical change that can be measured. The piece should have a stress reducing and restorative effect too. This can be both a subjective experience and a quantified measurement in form of heart-rate and heart coherence. And there are of course the landscapes and the sounds that should induce these states.

So how do you convert these goals into an experiment design? You follow a course and you ask people who have a lot more experience with designing psychological experiments!

I started out with way too complex idea. Combining stress induction and testing stimuli effects in one experiment. I’ve had great input from my professor Hein at the Open University, Sarah (PhD in psychology), Ilia (developer of stimulus creation software) and Malcolm (information scientist and psychologist) from Heartlive. Discussing my idea’s with them helped me a lot.

Together with the students I looked at the type of landscapes and sounds that would be most valuable to explore for the Virtual View installation. We’ve decided to test 5 sets with 6 landscape images based on, among other things, the most preferred landscapes as defined by Ulrich. We also explore the mystery aspect of landscapes as outlined in the attention restoration theory by Kaplan and Kaplan. Each set of images has a sound to go with it. We use one contrast set of neutral hospital interiors accompanied with hospital sounds. Another thing we want to explore is non photo realistic landscapes. As the final piece will consists of computer generated graphics with a certain degree of abstraction we want to compare the response to abstract landscape paintings to the photo realistic material.

From the little research that has been done on the effects of (nature) sounds we’ve come to different combinations of running water and birdsong. These are the sets and sounds {in curly braces}:

a. Preferred landscape with water element {running water}
b. Preferred landscape in autumn {repetitive bird calls}
c. Neutral hospital interiors {neutral hospital sounds}
d. Landscape with deflecting views {running water and melodious birdsong}
e. Preferred landscape as abstract painting {melodious birdsong}

While experiencing the stimuli the participants’ heart beat will be measured with the Heartlive sensor. This will give data in the form of beats per minute, inter beat interval and heart coherence. A questionnaire on the perceived relaxation state will give insight into how the different stimuli sets are experienced by the participants and how they effect their sense of relaxation.

We expect combination d) the have the most positive effect compared to the other sets: higher IBI values, lower BPM values and higher coherence and the most self reported relaxation. The neutral hospital interior we expect to score the lowest means on those variables.

The sets and the images in the sets are randomised for each participant. The sounds are attached to one set. The participants will see all the sets (repeated measures). In the end we’ll be able to compare the different means of all the sets.

In the next blog I’ll explain more about building the experiment in EventIDE, the stimulus creation software I mentioned above.

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