Making Virtual Sense: Display Type and Narrative Medium Influence Sensemaking in Virtual Environments

  • Sarah J. Hibbard
  • Susannah J. Whitney
  • Laura Carter
  • Justin J. T. Fidock
  • Philip Temby
  • Luke Thiele
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 10711)


Virtual reality (VR) is being used for training and research in various industries due to its greater immersion relative to flat screen simulation technology. However, the effect of immersive VR displays and background storylines (i.e., narrative) on metacognitive skills, such as sensemaking, remains unexplored. The current study employed a 2  ×  2 between-subjects experimental design to investigate the influence of display type and narrative medium on sensemaking for an observation-based driving task. Sixty-eight adults were semi-randomly assigned to one of four conditions. Participants received a pre-mission narrative briefing (text or multimedia) and undertook two simulated driving missions (flat screen or VR display). A structured debriefing followed each mission to assess sensemaking in terms of frequency and type of explanation for mission events. The results indicate that both display type and narrative medium influence sensemaking in virtual environments. For explanations relating to previously encountered mission events, sensemaking frequency was higher in the VR conditions than the flat screen conditions (F(1) = 9.11, p = .004, partial η2 = .15). For explanations relating to the briefing materials, sensemaking frequency was higher in the multimedia narrative conditions than the text-based narrative conditions (F(1) = 8.38, p = .005, partial η2 = .14). Although the findings suggest that VR displays have cognitive benefits over traditional flat screen displays, the likelihood of VR-induced adverse effects (i.e., cybersickness) should be managed (e.g., limiting exposure). These results indicate that narrative medium and display type should be carefully considered by industries using virtual environments for training and research.


Virtual reality Head-Mounted display Immersion Sensemaking 



This research was funded by the Australian Army’s Land 400 Project. The research project was conducted by the first author at the Defence Science and Technology Group in partial fulfilment of the degree of Master of Psychology (Organisational and Human Factors) at the University of Adelaide. At the time of publication, the first author is now solely employed by Consilium Technology Pty Ltd. The authors would also like to acknowledge the study participants for their time and valuable contributions.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah J. Hibbard
    • 1
  • Susannah J. Whitney
    • 2
  • Laura Carter
    • 2
  • Justin J. T. Fidock
    • 2
  • Philip Temby
    • 2
  • Luke Thiele
    • 3
  1. 1.Consilium Technology Pty LtdAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Defence Science and Technology GroupEdinburghAustralia
  3. 3.Rheinmetall Simulation AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

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