Understanding spatial presence formation and maintenance in virtual reality for younger and older adults

Tracy L. Mitzner, Sean A. McGlynn, Wendy A. Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Virtual reality (VR) has the potential to benefit physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional well-being across a wide spectrum of domains. For the benefits of VR to be fully realized, people must experience spatial presence in the digital environment. We developed the Magnet Model of Spatial Presence as a framework to integrate the extant literature, identify gaps, and delineate the spatial presence formation and maintenance processes in virtual reality. Given that perception and attention are key components of the spatial presence process, age-related changes in these abilities might impact older adults’ ability to develop and maintain spatial presence in a virtual environment. Objective: This research study aimed to address limitations in the literature by assessing various aspects of the spatial presence process for younger and older adults. The objectives were to evaluate how long it takes to form spatial presence; the extent that spatial presence is experienced and if it changes over several hours of time with experience; how well people maintain presence; and how well they recover from breaks in the spatial presence experience. Method: Participants were twenty-five younger adults and twenty-five older adults. The VR apparatus was an HTC Vive and the VR experiences included one passive experience and one active experience. Participation occurred for three days. Results: Most aspects of the spatial presence process were similar for older and younger adults. Presence formation occurred quickly, levels of presence were high and generally maintained over several hours of time. Younger adults experienced more breaks in presence than older adults, but all participants were generally able to easily recover from breaks in presence. Conclusion: These findings provide insights on presence formation, levels, maintenance, and break recovery. The results illustrate the potential of virtual reality for both younger and older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • aging
  • spatial presence
  • virtual reality (VR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Understanding spatial presence formation and maintenance in virtual reality for younger and older adults'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this