A combined view of the human brain and computer-generated virtual realities is motivated by recent developments in cognitive neuroscience and human-computer interaction (HCI). The emergence of new theories of human brain function, together with an increasing use of realistic human-computer interaction, give reason to believe that a better understanding of the relationship between human brains and virtual realities is both possible and valuable. The concept of “presence”, described as the subjective feeling of being in a place that feels real, can serve as a cornerstone concept in the development of such an understanding, as computer-generated presence is tightly related to how human brains work in virtual realities.
In this thesis, presence is related both to theoretical discussions rooted in theories of human brain function, and to measurements of brain activity during realistic interaction. The practical implications of such results are further developed by considering potential applications. This includes the development and evaluation of a prototype application, motivated by presented principles.
The theoretical conception of presence in this thesis relies on general principles of brain function, and describes presence as a general cognitive function, not specifically related to virtual realities. Virtual reality (VR) is an excellent technology for investigating and taking advantage of all aspects of presence, but a more general interpretation allows the same principles to be applied to a wide range of applications.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to study the working human brain in VR. Such data can inform and constrain further discussion about presence. Using two different experimental designs we have investigated both the effect of basic aspects of VR interaction, as well as the neural correlates of disrupted presence in a naturalistic environment.
Reality-based brain-computer interaction (RBBCI) is suggested as a concept for summarizing the motivations for, and the context of, applications building on an understanding of human brains in virtual realities. The RBBCI prototype application we developed did not achieve the set goals, but much remains to be investigated and lessons from our evaluation point to possible ways forward. A developed use of methods and techniques from computer gaming is of particular interest.