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Designing for self-transcendent experiences in virtual reality

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This thesis contributes to Psychology and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research with a focus on the design of immersive experiences that support self-transcendence. Self-transcendence is defined as a decrease in a sense of self and a increase in unity with the world. It can change what individuals know and value, their perspective on the world and life, evolving them as a grown person. Consequently, self-transcendence is gaining attention in Psychology, Philosophy, and Neuroscience. But, we are still far from understanding the complex phenomenological and neurocognitive aspects of self-transcendence, as well as its implications for individual growth and psychological well-being. In reviewing the methods for studying self-transcendence, we found differing conceptual models determine different ways for understanding and studying self-transcendence. Understanding self-transcendence is made especially challenging because of its ineffable qualities and extraordinary conditions in which it takes place. For that reason, researchers have began to look at technological solutions for both eliciting self-transcendence to better study it under controlled and replicable conditions as well as giving people greater access to the experience. We reviewed immersive, interactive technologies that aim to support positive experiences such as self-transcendence and extracted a set of design considerations that were prevalent across experiences. We then explored two different focuses of self-transcendence: awe and lucid dreaming. First, we took an existing VR experience designed specifically to support the self-transcendent experience of awe and looked at how the mindset and physical setting surrounding that VR experience might better support the experience of and accommodation of awe. Second, we delved deep into lucid dreaming to better understand the aspects that could help inform the design of an immersive experience that supports self-transcendence. We put those design ideas into practice by developing a neurofeedback system that aims to support lucid dreaming practices in an immersive experience. Through these review papers and design explorations, we contribute to the understanding of how one might design and evaluate immersive technological experiences that support varieties of self-transcendence. We hope to inspire more work in this area that holds promise in better understanding human nature and living our best lives.
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Riecke, Bernhard
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