Presence defined

What is presence? The statement below contains a comprehensive explication of the concept of presence. It is based on a discussion that took place via the presence-l listserv during the spring of 2000 among members of a community of scholars interested in the presence concept. The explication process will continue, and the statement will be revised accordingly, as our understanding of the concept grows; the statement was most recently updated on April 29, 2000. The proper citation format for this statement (in APA format) is:

International Society for Presence Research. (2000). The Concept of Presence: Explication Statement. Retrieved <insert date> from https://ispr.info/

The Concept of Presence: Explication Statement

[1] Presence (a shortened version of the term “telepresence”) is a psychological state or subjective perception in which even though part or all of an individual’s current experience is generated by and/or filtered through human-made technology, part or all of the individual’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of the technology in the experience. Except in the most extreme cases, the individual can indicate correctly that s/he is using the technology, but at *some level* and to *some degree*, her/his perceptions overlook that knowledge and objects, events, entities, and environments are perceived as if the technology was not involved in the experience. Experience is defined as a person’s observation of and/or interaction with objects, entities, and/or events in her/his environment; perception, the result of perceiving, is defined as a meaningful interpretation of experience.

[2] All experience of the physical world is mediated by the human senses and complex perceptual processes. This experience, identified by some scholars as “first order” mediated experience, is the “normal” or “natural” way we perceive the physical world and provides a subjective sensation of being present in our environment (constituting a broader conception of the term “presence” – i.e., not a shortened version of “telepresence”). Although this “first order” mediated experience generally provides perceptions that correspond to the true nature of the physical world, it can also provide perceptions that do not correspond to the true nature of the physical world; presence refers to the subset of human experience in which this misperception involves, at least in part, the actual role of technology in the experience: Presence occurs when part or all of an individual’s experience is mediated not only by the human senses and perceptual processes but also by human-made technology (i.e., “second order” mediated experience) while the person perceives the experience as if it is only mediated by human senses and perceptual processes (i.e., “first order mediated experience). Thus, presence requires researchers to compare human perceptions and responses in the context of technology with human perceptions and responses in contexts that do not involve technology (often referred to as “face-to-face” or “interpersonal” contexts or, somewhat confusingly, “nonmediated” or “real” contexts).

[3] Technology is defined as a machine, device, or other application of human industrial arts. It includes traditional and emerging electronic media such as television, radio, film, the telephone, computers, virtual reality, and simulation rides; traditional print media such as newspapers, books, and magazines; and traditional arts such as painting and sculpture. Technologies used to correct deficiencies in “normal” perception of the physical world (e.g., eye-glasses and hearing-aids) as well as those designed to augment or enhance perception are included. Most technologies provide stimuli to the human sense apparatus, but this definition also includes technologies that provide stimuli directly to the human neural processing system.

[4] Presence is a property of an individual and varies across people and time; it is not a property of a technology or one of the technologies commonly referred to as a medium, although technologies or media with specific constellations of characteristics are likely to evoke a similar set of presence responses across individuals and across time (e.g., an IMAX 3D presentation typically produces greater presence in viewers than a small television presentation)

[5] A person’s sense of presence can vary in degree: Presence does not occur when a technology user’s perceptions fully and accurately acknowledge the role of technology in an experience (e.g., a television viewer might accurately perceive that s/he is watching a human-made technology and that the images on the small box in her/his living room are merely representations of objects, events, and people that may or may not exist elsewhere). Presence is greater, but not maximized, when a technology user’s perceptions only partially acknowledge the actual role of technology in the experience (e.g., the user of an advanced virtual reality system may simultaneously be consciously aware of – i.e., think about – the nature of the technology that is generating her/his experience, accurately acknowledging the technological channel through which the experience has been generated, but nevertheless also perceive that s/he is inside the technology-generated environment). Presence is maximized when a technology user’s perceptions fail to accurately acknowledge any role of the technology in the experience (e.g., the user of a sophisticated flight simulator may, at least for short periods, be completely unaware of the technological channel through which the experience has been generated and perceive that s/he is actually flying an aircraft).

[6] Presence occurs during an encounter with technology and not before or after this encounter (although the consequences/effects of presence can occur after the encounter). Presence occurs in an “instant by instant” manner. Although it appears that presence is a continuous rather than dichotomous variable, it has not been determined whether 1) presence can exist in varying degrees at each instant (as it seems) or 2) our sense that presence is continuous is the result of the cumulative effect of instants, which may be as short as milliseconds, in which presence either does or does not exist.

In either case, as a misperception regarding the role of technology in an experience, presence can be “broken” by external events or internal mental processes that bring the true nature of the experience to the person’s conscious awareness, at which point presence is reduced or extinguished.

[7] Presence is a multi-dimensional concept; i.e., there are different types of presence. Little is currently known concerning which types exist but several (in many cases nonorthogonal or overlapping) dimensions have been proposed by different scholars; researchers are beginning to empirically test the validity of some of these dimensions. Some argue that the types should be divided into those that involve perceptions of physical environments, those that involve perceptions of social interaction, and those that involve both of these. In identifying dimensions of presence it is important to distinguish between antecedents/causes of presence, presence itself, and consequences/effects of presence. Major proposed dimensions include:

[7a] “Spatial presence,” “physical presence,” “a sense of physical space,” “perceptual immersion,” “transportation” and “a sense of being there” occur when part or all of a person’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology that makes it appear that s/he is in a physical location and environment different from her/his actual location and environment in the physical world.

An example: A variety of stimuli provided by a virtual reality system can cause the user to perceive that s/he is moving through and interacting with the environment created by the technology rather than the user’s actual physical environment; the user may comment, “It seemed as if I was someplace else!”

[7b] “Sensory presence,” “perceptual realism,” “naturalness,” “ecological validity”, and “tactile engagement” occur when part or all of a person’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology that makes it appear that s/he is in a physical location and environment in which the sensory characteristics correspond to those of the physical world, i.e., s/he perceives that the objects, events, and/or people s/he encounters look, sound, smell, feel, etc. as they do or would in the physical world. Note that although technology-generated environments that look, sound, etc. the same as environments in the physical world are more likely to evoke this, and perhaps other, type(s) of presence, it is the *perception* that the sensory characteristics of the technology-generated environment and those of the physical world correspond that defines this type of presence rather than the *actual* correspondence of the characteristics.

An example: Because it provides large, high resolution, three-dimensional images and high fidelity, dimensional sound, a 3D IMAX film presentation can cause the viewer to perceive that s/he is in an environment that looks and sounds as the viewer believes it does or would in the physical world; the user may comment, “It seemed so real!”

[7c] “Social realism” occurs when part or all of a person’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology that makes it appear that s/he is in a physical location and environment in which the social characteristics correspond to those of the physical world, i.e., s/he perceives that the objects, events, and/or people s/he encounters do or could exist in the physical world. Note that although technology-generated environments in which objects, people, and events act as they do in the physical world are more likely to evoke this, and perhaps other, type(s) of presence, it is the *perception* that the social characteristics of the technology-generated environment and those of the physical world correspond that defines this type of presence rather than the *actual* correspondence of the characteristics.

An example: A well written, well acted, filmed version of events that have occurred in the physical world can lead the film viewer to perceive that s/he is in an environment in which objects, events, and people act and/or respond in the way(s) the viewer believes they did or would in the physical world; the user may comment, “It seemed so realistic!”

[7d] “Engagement,” “involvement,” and “psychological immersion” occur when part or all of a person’s perception is directed toward objects, events, and/or people created by the technology, and away from objects, events, and/or people in the physical world. Note that the person’s perception is not directed toward the technology itself but the objects, events and/or people the technology creates.

An example: A virtual reality system, 3D IMAX film, or a well written and acted film can cause the user or viewer to devote all of her/his mental effort to processing the stimuli created by the technology and ignore stimuli (e.g., other people, equipment, furniture, etc.) in her/his actual physical environment; the user may comment, “It was so involving!”

[7e] “Social presence” (distinct from social *realism*) occurs when part or all of a person’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology that makes it appear that s/he is communicating with one or more other people or entities.

“Social actor within the medium” and “parasocial interaction” occur when part or all of a person’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology in her/his perception that s/he is engaged in two-way communication with another person or people, or with an artificial entity (e.g., a computer “agent”), when the communication is in fact one-way, from the technology to the person without feedback from the person to the other entity(ies).

An example: Those who create and appear in television programs use a variety of techniques (e.g., direct address and sincerity) that can lead the viewer to feel that s/he is interacting with and/or in a “relationship” with the personalities and characters s/he encounters; the user may comment, “It seemed like we were interacting!”

“Co-presence” and “transportation: shared space” occur when part or all of a person’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology in her/his perception that the person or people with whom s/he is engaged in two-way communication is/are in the same physical location and environment when in fact they are in a different physical location.

An example: Advanced video-conferencing systems can create for a user the illusion that s/he is in a face-to-face meeting in which all the participants are in the same room; the user may comment, “It felt like we were all together there!”

“Medium as social actor” occurs when part or all of a person’s perception fails to accurately acknowledge the role of technology in her/his perception that s/he is engaged in communication with another entity when in fact the other entity is merely a technology or medium (e.g., computer, television, etc.).

An example: The ability of a computer to interact with a user in real-time, use human (rather than machine or technical) language, and fill a social role (e.g., bank teller or teacher) can lead even an experienced user to follow social norms (e.g., regarding gender stereotypes and third-party evaluations) that are usually reserved for human-human interaction; the user might not be aware of this phenomenon, but if s/he is, s/he may comment, “It seemed like a person!”

[8] There is currently disagreement regarding whether presence that occurs in the context of non-interactive (“passive” or “audio-visual”) technologies (e.g., television and film) is comparable with presence that occurs in the context of interactive (“active” or “motor”) technologies (e.g., computers and virtual reality).

[9] A number of types of misperceptions of the physical world seem to be examples of presence (short for “telepresence”) as defined here: the hearing of voices by schizophrenics; perceptions during dreams and daydreams, and less clearly, perceptions during role-playing games and perceptions that result from the use of various drugs. While these types of misperceptions typically do not fit the definition of presence (short for “telepresence”) because they do not involve a misperception regarding the role of human-made technology in experience (i.e., the distinction between “first order” and “second order” mediated experience), they are related to the broader conception of the term “presence” (i.e., not a shortened version of “telepresence”) because they concern misperceptions in “first order” mediated experience, the subjective sensation of being present in a certain environment, and as such they are worthy of study.

[10] The exact nature and location of the processing that results in presence is not known. It is likely that our initial and immediate responses to external stimuli (i.e., sensations) are identical when the external stimuli are created by or filtered through technology and when the external stimuli are not created by or filtered through technology (i.e., the role of technology is not acknowledged in the former situation). It may be that in some cases processing continues “automatically” and the possible role of technology in generating the experience is not evaluated, while in other cases a “higher order” or “active” or “conscious” evaluation is made regarding the possible role of technology (a role which may or may not be accurately recognized). It may be that parallel streams of processing occur during perception, so that when we have a sense of presence we simultaneously acknowledge the role of technology in one stream and fail to do so in another, thus we can be “aware” that we are using a technology (e.g., a virtual reality system) but simultaneously perceive objects, entities, and events we encounter (e.g., sharp objects, avatars, etc.) as if no technology was involved. It is also possible that people encourage or discourage their own sense of presence by directing their attention away from aspects of their experience that serve to remind them of the role of technology in it (e.g., when virtual reality is used in treatment of psychological phobias).

[11] A large number of possible causes of some or all of the different types of presence have been proposed; the causes may function individually or in various interactions to evoke presence. Although the causes are of particular interest to those who study the role of technology in experience, many of them are relevant to presence-related phenomena that occur in the context of “first order” mediated experience (see [2] above) – i.e., experience in which technology plays no role, as well. These causes include but are not limited to:

Characteristics of media/technology *form* such as the number and consistency of sensory outputs, image size and quality, viewing distance, use of motion and color, audio volume and fidelity, visual and aural dimensionality, subjective camera techniques such as direct address, obtrusiveness of the technology, technology size and shape, and a number of variables related to interactivity.

Characteristics of media/technology *content* such as social realism (i.e., believability), quality of writing, quality of acting, physical appearance of actors/personalities, fame or notoriety of actors/personalities, use of media conventions, and the nature of the task or activity.

Characteristics of the media/technology *user* such as her/his willingness to suspend disbelief, knowledge of and prior experience with the technology, age, and gender.

[12] A large number of possible consequences of some or all of the different types of presence have been proposed and serve as motivations for further study of presence. The consequences may occur individually or in various combinations and depend on a large number of complex interacting factors (see 11 above]. Although the consequences are of particular interest to those who study the role of technology in experience, all of them can occur in the context of “first order” mediated experience (see [2] above) – i.e., experience in which technology plays no role, as well. These consequences include but are not limited to:

Increases or decreases in physiological arousal; feelings of self-motion (vection), motion sickness, enjoyment, empathy, learning, improved task performance and skill training, psychological desensitization, connectedness (involvement, mutuality, engagement) with other people (e.g., media personalities), parasocial relationships, a number of different emotional responses, persuasion, and distorted memory and social judgments.

One Comment

  1. Posted November 12, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Please dont use presence instead of telepresence, as this would do same you guys are trying to say, that is, we tend to forget about technology being a part of our experience, same way readers might forget about what exactly presence is, its not ‘presence’ ‘presence’, it ‘telepresence’ .

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  1. […] des Users übereinstimmen. Die International Society for Presence Research (ISPR) eröffnet ihre erschöpfende Definition des Konzepts […]

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