Virtual reality as a medium for designing and understanding transformative experiences: the case of the overview effect

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Transformative experiences
Transcendent experiences
Overview effect
Virtual reality
Positive technology

A unique experience of seeing the Earth from outer space produces a profound emotional reaction in most astronauts leading to a cognitive shift increasing their feeling of connectedness and a sense of responsibility for our planet. This experience, called "Overview Effect", is a remarkable example of a transformative experience. However, such phenomenon is not only inaccessible to the majority of the population, it's also inaccessible to most researchers interested in studying it. Can Virtual Reality (VR) serve as a novel medium for creating environments that invite transformative experiences? I propose a transformative framework suggesting how VR can facilitate progression though a transformative experience; analyze interviews of astronauts and derive specific design and evaluation guidelines for a virtual experience of the Overview Effect; describe the development and report on the initial study with a VR experience "AWE", inspired by the Overview Effect. The results suggest that VR is a viable transformative medium.

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Bernhard Riecke
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Interactive Arts and Technology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.Sc.