English publication


Background: Desktop virtual environments (VEs) are increasingly deployed to study the effects of environmental qualities and interventions on human behavior and safety related concerns in built environments. For these applications it is essential that users appraise the affective qualities of the VE similar to those of its real world counterpart. Previous studies have shown that factors like simulated lighting, sound and dynamic elements all contribute to the affective appraisal of a desktop VE. Since ambient odor is known to affect the affective appraisal of real environments, and has been shown to increase the sense of presence in immersive VEs, it may also be an effective tool to tune the affective appraisal of desktop VEs. This study investigated if exposure to ambient odor can modulate the affective appraisal of a desktop VE with signs of public disorder.
Method: Participants explored a desktop VE representing a suburban neighborhood with signs of public disorder (neglect, vandalism and crime), while being exposed to either room air or subliminal levels of unpleasant (tar) or pleasant (cut grass) ambient odor. Whenever they encountered signs of disorder they reported their safety related concerns and associated affective feelings.
Results: Signs of crime in the desktop VE were associated with negative affective feelings and concerns for personal safety and personal property. However, there was no significant difference between reported safety related concerns and affective connotations in the control (no-odor) and in each of the two ambient odor conditions. Conclusion: Ambient odor did not affect safety related concerns and affective connotations associated with signs of disorder in the desktop VE. Thus, semantic congruency between ambient odor and a desktop VE may not be sufficient to influence its affective appraisal, and a more realistic simulation in which simulated objects appear to emit scents may be required to achieve this goal.


Ambient odor; Attention; Emotions; Perception; Social disorder; Virtual environment

picture of N.C.M. Theunissen

Last updated on 12 February, 2015.