In our lifetime there are certain moments where we suddenly discover new truths and meaning about ourselves. After these experiences we are not the same person we were. Transformative experiences encompass such a radical transformation of the self-world in terms of beliefs, character, identity, and interpersonal relationships. Through different types of transformative experiences, people can change their long-held beliefs about their ability to succeed in life (e.g., through a sense of empowerment and self-efficacy), their perceived importance of self (e.g., self-transcendence), perceived interpersonal connectedness (e.g., social connection), and so on. Immersive technology has the potential to support such meaningful positive transformative experiences, especially with the potential for embodied interaction that it affords. In this dissertation we explored three types of transformative experiences with two immersive artworks and associated studies: self transcendent experience (STE) and empowerment in the first study, and interpersonal connection in the second study. These two immersive artworks and studies significantly contribute to designing transformative experience with embodied interaction through immersive technology. In the first study, we designed Virtual Transcendent Dream – A VR flying experience inspired by dream-flying. With this virtual environment, we explored if a VR flying interface that provides more embodied self-motion cues could contribute to the benefits associated with flying dreams (i.e., STE and empowerment), using a mixed-method within-subjects experiment. Results indicated that a more embodied flying interface indeed better supported STE and empowerment. We discussed design considerations that designers could directly utilize – such as keeping the experience obscure and open to interpretation, using extraordinary light with its numinous quality for a sense of boundary dissolution, and providing a supportive setting. In the second study, we designed Breath of Light, an immersive art installation aiming to foster a feeling of connection and meditative awareness through breath synchronization, exhibited at the 13th Shanghai Biennale in March 2021. During the exhibition we observed interactions and interviewed participants to investigate how we could foster social connection through public art in the face of an ongoing pandemic. We found that this technological mediation of breathing has the transformative potential to revive the connective connotations of shared breathing, and cultivate inter-human connection and introspection, which might be supported by the use of metaphors, symbols, and ambiguous instructions. Overall we propose that embodied interaction can contribute to transformative experiences by emphasizing bodily action, perception and awareness in the experiences. We further posit connection to bodily self as a potential gateway towards transformation, and the tension between more active states and less active states as a key design parameter for transformative experience design.
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Thesis advisor: Riecke, Bernhard
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