Virtual Reality

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 301–314 | Cite as

Supporting cognitive processing with spatial information presentations in virtual environments

Original Article


While it has been suggested that immersive virtual environments could provide benefits for educational applications, few studies have formally evaluated how the enhanced perceptual displays of such systems might improve learning. Using simplified memorization and problem-solving tasks as representative approximations of more advanced types of learning, we are investigating the effects of providing supplemental spatial information on the performance of learning-based activities within virtual environments. We performed two experiments to investigate whether users can take advantage of a spatial information presentation to improve performance on cognitive processing activities. In both experiments, information was presented either directly in front of the participant, at a single location, or wrapped around the participant along the walls of a surround display. In our first experiment, we measured memory scores and analyzed participant strategies for a memorization and recall task. In addition to comparing spatial and non-spatial presentations, we also varied field of view and background imagery. The results showed that the spatial presentation caused significantly better memory scores. Additionally, a significant interaction between background landmarks and presentation style showed that participants used more visualization strategies during the memorization task when background landmarks were shown with spatial presentations. To investigate whether the advantages of spatial information presentation extend beyond memorization to higher level cognitive activities, our second experiment employed a puzzle-like task that required critical thinking using the presented information. Focusing only on the effects of spatial presentations, this experiment measured task performance and mental workload. The results indicate that no performance improvements or mental workload reductions were gained from the spatial presentation method compared with a non-spatial layout for our problem-solving task. The results of these two experiments suggest that supplemental spatial information can affect mental strategies and support performance improvements for cognitive processing and learning-based activities. However, the effectiveness of spatial presentations is dependent on the nature of the task and a meaningful use of space and may require practice with spatial strategies.


Virtual environments Memory Cognition Learning Space 



Field of view


Virtual reality


Virtual environment


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric D. Ragan
    • 1
  • Doug A. Bowman
    • 1
  • Karl J. Huber
    • 1
  1. 1.Virginia TechBlacksburgUSA

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