The experience of virtual reality: are individual differences in mental imagery associated with sense of presence?

  • T. IachiniEmail author
  • L. Maffei
  • M. Masullo
  • V. P. Senese
  • M. Rapuano
  • A. Pascale
  • F. Sorrentino
  • G. Ruggiero
Research Article


The concept of “presence” describes the quality of subjective experience in immersive virtual reality (IVR). Presence refers to a specific state of consciousness: we behave and feel as if we actually were in the virtual world even though we know there is nothing there. In their handbook of Virtual Reality, Burdea and Coiffet (Virtual reality technology, Wiley, New York, 2003) suggested that the experience of presence in IVR would emerge from the combination of three Is: Immersion or capacity to isolate from the external world, Interaction or capacity to naturally exploring the virtual environment, and Imagination or individual aptitudes with mental imagery. So far, several studies have investigated the technological and psychological factors affecting the degree of immersion and interaction. However, no study has explored the relationship between perceived presence and mental imagery. Here we aim at filling this gap through a correlational study comparing self-reports about sense of presence and mental imagery abilities. After experiencing two IVR scenarios (an art gallery and a living room), 142 male and female users were administered with questionnaires assessing the degree of presence (Igroup Presence Questionnaire), the degree of vividness (Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire) and control (Test of Visual Imagery Control) of subjective mental images. Results showed a clear positive correlation between presence and vividness: the higher the vividness of mental images the stronger the reported sense of presence felt in IVR scenarios. Instead, the capacity to control mental imagery showed a weaker association with presence. We may conclude that individual differences in the degree of perceived presence and mental imagery ability are associated.


Immersive virtual reality Presence Mental imagery ability Vividness of mental imagery Control of mental imagery Individual differences 



This study was not supported by grant or funding.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict interest

We know of no conflicts of interest associated with this publication, and there has been no significant financial support for this work that could have influenced its outcome. As Corresponding Author, I confirm that the manuscript has been read and approved for submission by all the named authors.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in the present study involving healthy participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Review Board of the Department of Psychology (University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli) and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Campania “L. Vanvitelli”CasertaItaly
  2. 2.Department of Architecture and Industrial DesignUniversity of Campania “L. Vanvitelli”81031 AversaItaly

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