Presence in Informative Virtual Environments: The Effects of Self-Efficacy,
Spatial Ability and Mood
Lynette Lim, Linda A. Jackson, Frank Biocca, Gretchen Barbatsis, Keith
Bradburn, Ming Tang, Yong Zhao, & Hiram Fitzgerald
Michigan State University
Paper submitted for consideration to the
Mass Communication and Society Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication 2003 Convention
This project is part of the HomeNetToo/Culture Media & Mind project and the
stimulus materials used were supported in part by grant number NSF-ITR
#085348 from the National Science Foundation. Correspondence concerning
this article should be addressed to:
Michigan State University
Department of Telecommunication
409 Communication Arts & Sciences
East Lansing, MI 48824-1212
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
The purpose of this study is to evaluate whether 3-D virtual environments
have an effect on learning in virtual environments. The same information is
presented on a regular webpage and a custom constructed 3D spatial environment.
The results show (1) a correlation between an individual's positive
attitudes about the environment and a sense of presence; and (2) partial
support for the hypothesis that users with high computer and Internet
self-efficacy would experience a higher sense of presence in the 3D virtual
Keywords: human-computer interaction, virtual environments, 2D & 3D
environments, mood, learning, spatial ability, self-efficacy
Informative Virtual Environments 3
One of the most common applications of three-dimensional (3D) environments
today is in computer games. Games where users can take on the first person
perspective such as Counterstrike, Unreal Tournament, and the Grand Theft
Auto series are found in most top 10 lists of computer gaming software
(e.g. Klappenbach, 2000). These games though given their entertainment
value, tend to be addictive and have even been suggested to inculcate
personality traits such as violence in frequent users (e.g. Ballard &
Lineberger, 1999). But what if the popularity and entertainment factors of
3D virtual environments can be transferred into informational and
educational contexts? Would users feel the same level of presence in these
In this study, a 3D environment was constructed to simulate the
first-person interface view of many popular 3D computer games. However,
instead of weapons or vehicles, informational material was placed within
buildings in the environment and users were instructed to seek out the
information. Creating a 3D environment for informational and/or educational
purposes poses several questions: Will an informational 3D virtual
environment yield greater knowledge gained for the user compared to a
traditional two-dimensional (2D) website? Does affect and individual
differences in spatial ability have have a relationship on level of
knowledge gained? Does a 3D environment yield higher levels of physical
presence felt by the user than a standard 2D webpage? The purpose of this
experimental study is to address these questions.
Physical Presence in 3D Virtual Environments
Presence has been defined as a basic state of consciousness, where
sensations felt are attributed to distal stimuli or artificially
constructed environments (Loomis, 1992 in Kim & Biocca, 1997). It is a
user's subjective experience of being in one setting or environment, when
in reality the user is in another physical location. Virtual presence or
telepresence is defined as "a subjective sensation of being present in a
remote or artificial environment but not in the surrounding physical
environment" (Kim & Biocca, 1997). According to Biocca (1997), the levels
of physical presence felt by a user alternates between three environments:
a physical or immediate environment, a virtual or mediated environment, or
an imaginal environment, which is analogous to a state of dreaming or
daydreaming. In a virtual environment, users respond and attend to cues
within the environment and experience presence more easily than in an
imaginal environment. However, the level of presence cannot compare or be
maintained at the same level as the presence experienced in animmediate
Because we live in a three-dimensional world, it has been argued that 3D
virtual environments will enhance certain actions that have been more
commonly attributed to 2D environments. For example, Li, Daugherty, and
Biocca (2002) explore three-dimensional (3D) advertising and how presence
mediates the formation of personal experience. Li et al. (2002) found that
3D advertising will result in a greater sense of presence than 2D
advertising and that 3D advertising will result in more favorable brand
attitudes. In the case of 3D virtual environments, users are experiencing a
computer-generated environment made to simulate objects in the real world.
Regenbrecht & Schubert (2002) argued that interaction with a 3D environment
will enhance a user's sense of presence. It is assumed that presence
results when a user perceives interaction with the 3D virtual environment
as being similar to interactivity in the real world (Schuemie & van der
Witmer and Singer (1998) posit that users of virtual environments would
feel a sense of presence when they are interacting directly or have become
part of the environment. They address measuring presence in virtual
environments by means of a presence questionnaire. The relationship
between presence and learning is also discussed. Witmer and Singer assume
that since aspects related to learning and performance increase presence,
there may also be a positive relationship between presence and
performance. When users interact with a computer-generated environment
their experience with that environment becomes more meaningful. It is
assumed that when a user's interaction is meaningful their learning improves.
Nunez and Blake (2003) examined whether or not users of non-graphical
displays experience presence. Participants in the study interacted with
both graphical and text-based environments. In the graphical environment
users explored a series of virtual rooms using mouse and keyboard. The
text-based environment presented users with a still image of a room, and
navigation was accomplished by choosing a command from a list of
options. The results of this study confirm that while users of both
graphical and text-based systems experience presence, users of
graphical-based virtual environments experience higher levels of
presence. These findings suggest that interaction with graphics-based
virtual environments will also result in an improvement of task performance.
It has been suggested that individual differences have an effect on users
in virtual environments (Chen, Czerwinski & Macredie, 2000; Chen, 2000;
Waller, 2000). Because an individual experiencing presence in a virtual
environment engages a series of cognitive faculties, the role of individual
differences such as cognitive ability, mood or affect, and self-efficacy
may play a role in determining learning in virtual environments. Rusting
and Larson (1998) found that when given a series of cognitive tasks, test
subjects showed enhanced performance when they reported positive reactions
to stimuli. It has been suggested that mood variables play a part in test
performance and memory recall (e.g. Fiedler & Stroehm, 1986; Tanis, Sarup &
Sullivan, 1996; Levine & Burgess, 1997; Lee & Sternthal, 1999) . Their
study found that individuals with positive emotions had higher memory
recall rates and test performance and those with negative emotion had
selective information processing. Finally, Lee & Sternthal's (1999) study
on the effects of a positive mood on the memory and recall of brand names
showed that positive mood in an individual enhances the "strategic
allocation of cognitive resources to stimulus processing" and "more
strategic deployment of these resources" (p.125-126).
The constructed 3D virtual environment in this study is more graphically
and visually intense than the static two-dimensional webpage, which
creates a greater sense of realism for users. Li, Daugherty & Biocca (2002)
assert that interactive virtual environments present a richer media
experience than in passive two-dimensional (2D) environments such as those
in print form or on television or computer screens. Participants were also
allowed some extents of freedom of choice, movement and interactivity
within the 3D environment. Burgoon, Bonito, Bengtsson, Ramirez, Dunbar &
Miczo (2000) define interaction involvement as "the extent to which users
experience high cognitive, sensory, visceral, and motor engagement of an
interaction" and assert that "interaction creates a sense of presence" (p.
36). Because of the graphically intense and interactive nature of the 3D
spatial environment, we hypothesize that:
H1 = Users of the spatial environment will report higher levels of presence
than users of the control environment.
Waller (2000) suggests that spatial ability increased a user's acquisition
and transference of spatial knowledge in a virtual environment. The results
from Lawton & Morrin's (1999) experiments found that there is a
relationship between spatial ability and the ability to orient oneself in a
3D maze environment. Infering that high cognitive spatial ability would
increase the level of cognitive processing in virtual environements, we
H2 = Spatial ability will be correlated with the level of presence
Witmer and Singer (1998) contend that if factors that increase presence
are manipulated in virtual environments, there will also be an increase in
both learning and performance. Citing Bower, Gilligan & Monteiro's (1981)
mood-congurent learning effect hypothesis, Chebat, LaRoche, Badura &
Filiatrault (1995) assert that individuals with positive affect toward
specific elements during the learning process would have better memory
recall towards those elements when compared with other elements that they
were exposed to. Debowski, Wood and Bandura (2001) also assert that in
addition to self-efficacy and sustained interest, positive affect is also a
necessary factor for people with only basic abilities in the accomplishment
of challenging tasks. Based on the research, we hypothesize that:
H3 = Higher levels of presence will be correlated with positive attitudes
towards the interface.
H4 = Positive affect and presence will have an effect on learning.
Self-efficacy is a component within Bandura's social cognitive theory
(1982, 1986, 1997) and can be defined as the self-perception of an
individual's ability to perform. It has been used in studies to explain
behavioral changes and affect responses to various technologies, including
computers and the Internet (e.g. Compeau & Higgins, 1995; Eastin & LaRose,
2000; Debowski, Wood, & Bandura, 2001). High computer and Internet
self-efficacy is characterized by how proficient users perceive themselves
to be with the technology. The spatial environment used computer game
engines to simulate movement not unlike that of a first person shooter
computer game. Many of these games are played online in which communities
are formed and users can interact with one another. Participants with prior
experience to such are more likely to feel that they are more adept in such
environments than first-time users. Based on this reasoning, it is
H5 = Users with high computer and Internet self-efficacy will experience
presence in the spatial 3D environment.
58 students (16 male, 42 female) from a 4th-year advertising class at a
large, Midwestern university were asked to participate in the study in
exchange for extra credit. Participants were randomly assigned to each
condition using a random number generator. The final number of participants
for each condition was 28 for the control environment and 30 for the
spatial environment. Each subject was asked to complete online
questionnaires on a computer located in a different room from the stimulus
materials and the results were deposited into a server-side database for
retrieval. Participants were asked to complete online questionnaires twice
during the experiment: once before and once after viewing the stimulus
materials. In addition, subjects were asked to complete a card rotations
test (Ekstrom, French, Harman, & Derman, 1976) test on paper to test their
Two sets of stimulus materials were constructed for this experiment. The
subject matter covered in this experiment was basic informational material
on high blood pressure. The rationale behind the selection of this
information was (1) that high blood pressure was a condition that affects
or could potentially affect anyone in the general population; and (2) that
most people would pay attention to health information for their personal
The subject matter was obtained directly from informational material on the
American Heart Association homepage (American Heart Association, 2002) and
divided into five sections: (1) effects; (2) consequences; (3) risks; (4)
prevention through behavior change; and (5) prevention through dietary
change. Icons were used to represent each section, and each icon was placed
upon a heart background with the intent of using it as a memory aid for
users in identifying each section (see Appendix I) The icons used to
represent each section respectively were: (1) a book; (2) a red cross; (3)
a lightning bolt; (4) a man exercising; and (5) a fork and knife. The use
of icons are said to have an effect on user performance (McDougall, de
Brujin, Curry, 2000). According to Morrow et al. (1998), icons can aid
adults in their comprehension of medical and medicinal information through
better cognitive reasoning and memory recall.
The control interface was constructed in basic Hypertext Markup Language
(HTML) to look like a regular two-dimensionalInternet webpage. It had a
clickable menu bar with the representational icons on the left frame and
the relevant information when clicked would appear in the right frame. A
photograph or graphic would also appear in the right frame to help
illustrate the text within each section or sub-section. Users were provided
a mouse to navigate around the webpage.
The spatial interface was constructed to look like a three-dimensional
"cybertown". The buildings and objects of this "cybertown" was constructed
using 3D Studio Max and the navigational controls utilized the Macromedia
Director 8.5 game engine. The town consisted of five buildings; each made
to represent a section of the informational material. The exact same
information was located within each of the buildings in the form of posters
on the wall. The "cybertown" took up the top half of the screen, and the
bottom half of the screen remained blank until the user would click on a
From a first-person perspective, users would maneuver around the town
using a joystick. A pre-test of 25 subjects of similar demographic other
than those who participated in the actual study showed that subjects
encountered minimal difficulty navigating around in the environment. In
addition, the pre-test also helped debug the spatial interface. There were
no other people within the environment for users to interact with. Once
inside a building, the user would be able to see posters bearing the same
illustrative photographs or graphics used in the control interface. Users
were instructed to click on the posters to bring up textual information on
the lower half of the screen. Once a poster was clickedthe exact same text,
information, and graphics as the control webpage would be displayed in the
lower portion of the screen for the user to read. Screenshots of both these
interfaces can be viewed in Appendix I.
In order to simulate a life-sized environment so as to generate a greater
sense of presence for participants in the 3D environment, the stimulus
material was projected on a large, rear projection screen that measured 3
meters in length by 2 meters in height. The participants were situated on
an elevated platform so as to give each participant the sense that he/she
was walking at eye-level amongst life-sized buildings and objects. In order
to achieve control between the two conditions, participants assigned to the
control interface were also made to view the control interface on the large
projection screen, even though the information could have easily been
viewed on a regular computer screen. In order to filter out extraneous
noise from the background, participants were made to wear
noise-cancellation headphones. Participants in the control environment did
not hear anything through the headphones, and participants in the spatial
environment heard footstep-like noises everytime only when they moved the
joystick. The intent of adding the audio was to increase the sense of
presence by simulating "walking" in the environment.
As mentioned earlier, each participant was asked to complete a pre-stimulus
and a post-stimulus questionnaire. Repeated measures that were present in
both questionnaires were the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)
and the knowledge tests – a set of 20 questions that tested the
participant's knowledge of the subject matter both before and after
experiencing the stimuli.
In the pre-stimuli questionnaire, participants were asked self-rating
questions on their own computer and Internet self-efficacy and their
learning styles in addition to the PANAS and knowledge tests. In the
post-stimuli questionnaire, participants were administed the Independent
Television Commission's Sense of Presence Inventory (ITC-SOPI) to evaluate
their levels of physical presence felt (Lessiter, Freeman, Keogh, &
ITC-SOPI (The Independent Television Commision Sense Of Presence Inventory)
The intent of the experimental interface was for users to experience being
physically presence in a virtual town. The ITC-SOPI is a validated 44-item
self-report questionnaire that was used in this study to measure how
physically located users feel within any mediated space, how the mediated
environment compares to the real world, and how realistic the environment
feels (Lessiter, et. al., 2000). The items generate four factors: (1)
Spatial Presence – how physically present users feel in the virtual
environment; (2) Engagement – how involved users would feel toward the
content of the virtual environment; (3) Ecological Validity – the level of
realism and naturalness of the environment; and (4) Negative Effects – any
harmful physical effects, such as eye-strain or nausea, that users may
experience by being within the environment (Freeman & Lessiter, 2001).
Given the relative age of the audience, the participants' short length of
engagement with the environment (5-10 minutes), and the absence of any loud
audio or high-speed video stimuli, it was assumed that participants are
unlikely to experience such effects. Earlier research has shown that no
negative effects were felt from a similar environment (Li, et. al., 2002).
Computer & Internet Self-Efficacy
The computer self-efficacy and Internet self-efficacy scales were
administered separately, with the words "computer" and "the Internet" being
the only verbal differences in the two scales. Computer is the physical
technological access point and is differentiated from the Internet, which
is the intangible hypertextual content in cyberspace. In both
scales, participants were first asked to rate their own computer or
Internet skills (1=No, 2=Poor, 3=Average, 4=Good, 5=Very Good), and then
asked a series of 16 questions that was used to rate their level of
enjoyment derived from the computer or the Internet. Half of the questions
measured positive affect towards computers or the Internet, and the other
half measured negative affect. Sample questions include "Using a
computer/the Internet is fun," "I get nervous when I use a computer/the
Internet," "I feel relaxed when I use a computer/the Internet," and "I feel
relaxed when I use a computer/the Internet." Responses were in the form of
a 5-point likert-type scale where 1 indicated "Strongly Disagree" and 5
indicated "Strongly Agree".
Mental Rotations Test
The role of individual differences such as spatial ability on learning and
performance in 3D virtual environments has been addressed in many studies
(e.g. Chen, 2000; Waller, 2000; Czerwinski, Tan & Robertson, 2002). The
mental rotations test from Educational Testing Service's (ETS) The Kit of
Factor-Referenced Cognitive Tests (Ekstrom, et.al., 1976) was administered
to measure the spatial orientation and visualization cognitive abilities of
participants. The authors defined an individual's spatial ability as how
well users can cognitively manipulate images into other spatial
arrangements (Ekstrom, et. al., 1976). This was the only test in the entire
study to be administered with pencil and paper.
The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)
The PANAS scale was developed and validated by Watson, Clark & Tellegen
(1988). It consists of 20 self-report mood items such as "interested,"
"distressed," "excited," and "upset": 10 items were intended to measure
positive affect and 10 measured negative affect. Both positive and negative
affect scales should ideally be strongly negatively correlated. The authors
defined affect as used in their initial and validation studies as follows:
"Positive Affect (PA) reflects the extent to which a person feels
enthusiastic, active and alert. High PA is a state of high energy, full
concentration, and pleasurable engagement. Low PA is characterized by
sadness and lethargy. In contrast, Negative Affect (NA) is a general
dimension of subjective distress and unpleasurable engagement that subsumes
a variety of aversive mood states, including anger, contempt, disgust,
guilt, fear, and nervousness, with low NA being a state of calmness and
--- (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988, p. 1063).
Knowledge Tests: A 20-item multiple-choice knowledge test was developed
to test the participants' basic and behavioral knowledge of high blood
pressure information. 10 questions were related to the basic knowledge and
10 questions related to the behavioral knowledge of the respondent. Basic
knowledge was general information that the respondent knew about blood
pressure (e.g. "High blood pressure is also known as hypertension") and
behavioral knowledge was information that was related to behavioral causes
and consequences of having high blood pressure (e.g. "Smoking will increase
your blood pressure"). The same test was administered both before and after
participants' exposure to the stimuli and participants were instructed to
answer the questions to the best of their knowledge. A prelimary version of
the knowledge test was administered to 20 people of a similar demographic
to the actual participants of this study. Some of the changes that were
made include: clarifying ambiguous language, remove confounding test
options, and removing questions that were too vague in relation to the
Attitudes towards the environment: While the ITC-SOPI asked participants
to report how they felt while they were experiencing the environment; a
7-item set of scale questions was developed to ask participants what they
thought about the content of the environment in general. Sample questions
include "The site I just visited is enjoyable," "I will visit the site
again," and "I learned a lot from this site." The questions were answered
on a 7-point likert-type agree-disagree scale.
Reliability assessment was conducted on all dependent scale measures
(Computer & Internet self-efficacy, ITC-SOPI, PANAS, & attitudes toward the
environment) using Cronbach's alpha and all exceeded the generally-accepted
a =.7. Paired sample T-tests showed no significant difference in the
participants' positive affect (p = 0.415) or negative affect (p = 0.940)
before and after viewing the stimuli when the means were compared. Hence,
exposure to the stimulus did not increase or decrease participants'
positive or negative affect.
Hypothesis 1 predicted that users of the 3D spatial environment will
report higher levels of presence than users of the control environment. An
independent sample t-test conducted to compare the means of the of the four
factors in the ITC-SOPI showed no significant differences in spatial
presence (M1 control = 2.58, M2 spatial = 2.53, t(56)=.256, p > .05),
engagement (M1 = 2.97, M2 = 2.84, t(56)=.755, p > .05), or ecological
validity/naturalness (M1 = 3.19, M2 = 2.97, t(56)=1.095, p > .05). Hence,
the results failed to prove hypothesis 1.
Hypothesis 2 predicted that spatial ability would be correlated with the
level of presence. Pearson correlation between participants' attitudes
towards their respective environments showed no significant correlations
for all three factors of the ITC-SOPI. The correlation matrix can be viewed
in Table 1. Hence, the results show failed to support hypothesis 2.
Hypothesis 3 predicted that positive attitudes towards the environment
would be correlated with presence. Pearson correlation between
participants' attitudes towards their respective environments showed
significant positive 2-tailed correlations at the .01 level for spatial
presence (r = .419), engagement (r= .526), and ecological
validity/naturalness (r = .510). The correlation matrix can be viewed in
Table 2. Hence, the results show that there is a correlation between the
attitude of the user toward the environment and the level of presence
experienced in that environment.
Hypothesis 4 predicted that positive affect and presence will have an
effect on learning. Since there was no difference in positive mood, the
post-test PANAS positive mood score was used as the variable for positive
affect. Based on the mean knowledge test scores, participants showed a
40.8% increase in basic knowledge and a 20% increase in behavioral
knowledge. However, with learning as the dependent variable, tests of
between-subjects effects showed no significant interaction between positive
affect and spatial presence (F(1,58) = .024, p > .05), engagement (F(7, 58)
= 10.647, p > .05) or ecological validity/naturalness (F(14,58) = 1.950,
p > .05). Hence, hypothesis 4 was not supported in this study.
Hypothesis 5 predicted that users with high computer and Internet
self-efficacy will experience presence only in the spatial 3D environment.
An ANOVA on participants in the control condition showed no significant
effect of computer and Internet efficacy scores and on spatial presence
(F(21,27) = .659, p> .05), engagement (F(21,27) = .597, p > .05) or the
ecological validity/naturalness of the environment (F(21,27) = .838, p >
.05). An ANOVA on participants in the spatial condition showed only a
significant effect in spatial presence (F(24,29) = 5.238, p < .05) but not
engagement (F(24,29) = .976, p > .05) or ecological validity/naturalness
(F(24,29) = 4.211, p > .05). Hence, the results only partially support
Discussion and Limitations
While hypothesis 1 was not supported by the data, previous research that
shows a difference in presence felt between 2D and 3D environments (Li, et.
al. 2002; Regenbrecht & Schubert, 2002; Schuemie & van der Mast, 1999)
suggest that it is worth another look. The results of this study is only
preliminary, and significance can be increased of the data could have been
enhanced by increasing the N level in the study.
Failure to find any significant results in spatial ability and learning
(hypothesis 2 and 4) after using the stimulus could be due to the fact that
participants are college students, and are in a sense professional test
takers, and are more accustomed to how questions were asked and answered
compared to a population that has had a certain length of absence from
test-taking. High computer and Internet efficacy scores were probably due
to the fact that college students have access to and constantly use
computers in their everyday life. In addition, since participants were
maneuvering in an environment with no ultimate reward or goal, such as
minimum completion time or a high score, there may have been less
motivation to learn or read the information.
Users of the 3D interface had a sense of spatial presence, but did not
feel engaged in the environment, nor felt that the environment was real
(hypothesis 5). One possible explanation as to why they did not feel
engaged was the lack of characters with human characteristics (avatars) to
interact with. Although there were buildings and objects to simulate a real
environment, the user was essentially alone in the environment. The lack of
other interactive characters could also explain the lack of ecological
validity or naturalness of the environment that participants felt. In
addition, the environment was essentially a restricted space in which users
could not wander beyond the dimensions. Adding characters would help
enhance a user's engagement and sense of realism towards the environment,
but would also increase issues of control between the spatial and control
Finally, it is hard to assess whether the novelty factor played a part in
the results. While it is possible that participants have experienced
similar 3D environments such as in computer games, for most of them it was
the first time that they had viewed an environment on a large screen with
life-sized objects. Repeated exposure of the same subjects to the same
environment would cause participants to become familiarized with the
content and they would naturally score better in the knowledge tests.
Providing different content matter would have been a solution to control
for the novelty factor through repeated exposure. However, with the average
time taken to complete the experiment from start to finish taking between
20-30 minutes per participant, repeated exposure would have caused them to
be exhausted or bored, and this may increase their negative affect.
Conclusion and Directions for Future Study
With only 16 male participants in this study, there were insufficient
subjects to conduct reliable comparisons between males and females. This
experiment was originally designed to control for gender by evaluating
respondents based on their spatial ability and learning. However, since
studies have shown that there are discrepancies in cognitive ability
between genders in terms of cognitive performance (e.g. Knez & Kers, 2000),
memory (e.g. Heubner & Fredrickson, 1999), learning (e.g. Waller, 2000),
and spatial ability (e.g. Lawton & Morrin, 1999) and these differences can
be explored in relation the levels of physical presence in the 3D spatial
The results of this study can be considered preliminary, and helps lay
ground toward future studies using similar 3D environments. Additional
studies have been planned to administer this experiment to other
non-student populations. One reason that accounts for the insignificant
variance in test score difference, computer and Internet efficacy, and
spatial ability could be that college students exist in environments that
encourage these factors and this may account for higher scores in the
respective scales when compared with populations of different ages and
social economic status with more diverse educational background and
technical abilities. Finally, one direction that this study could take to
enhance the 3D stimuli so that it would better reflect the real world, such
as adding interactive characters within the 3D environment. Additional
pre-tests and evaluations will be needed in order to find suitable
characters that human users would be comfortable with.
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Informative Virtual Environments 3
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Correlation matrix of computer and Internet self-efficacy and ITC-SOPI
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Correlation matrix of attitudes towards the virtual environment and
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Figure . Closeup of Icon Representation used to represent each section of
information in both interfaces.
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Figure 2. Screenshot of control environment
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Figure 3. Screenshots of the 3D spatial environment
RUNNING HEAD: Informative Virtual Environments
Informative Virtual Environments 3