Spatial Cognition in Synthetic Environments

Frank Meijer

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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The current dissertation discussed the use of Virtual Reality in product design, referred to as the use of Synthetic Environments (SEs). The research of two basic and two case studies focused on investigating the effectiveness of SEs for the users. We expected that the users’ insight in the possibilities and flaws in a product’s design would increase if design situations were visualized and interactions were made with virtual prototypes. As a result, designers receive more accurate feedback about a product’s design, which leads to more effective design solutions. Two basic studies were conducted to determine the effect of interactivity on learning performance of virtual 3D objects. The results of these studies showed that interactively studied objects were memorized more accurately than passively studied objects. Moreover, the results revealed that interactivity is more effective for users with a low visual spatial ability (VSA) than for those with high VSA. The results also showed that interactivity affected visual related object representations, rather than action related representations. This implies that users were better able to memorize the visual appearance of virtual objects than performing imaginary actions with them. In addition, two case studies were conducted. The first case study investigated the relevance of visually realistic SEs for the users. The results confirmed the hypothesis that users were better able to memorize the spatial lay-out of visually realistic SEs than of a non-realistic SE. A second case study examined the influence of interactivity on the users’ subjective experience of realism in SEs. The results revealed that the users experienced an interactive SE as more realistic than an animation of the same environment. These results suggest that extra investment in visual realism and interactivity in SEs is useful. In conclusion, this dissertation showed that interactivity and visual realism are important characteristics of SEs, because it positively affects human memory. For the development of SEs it is therefore important to include these elements to ensure an effective application of SEs to product design. Furthermore, this dissertation emphasizes that designers should first define the users and their characteristics before they implement the technology of SEs.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Verwey, Willem B., Supervisor
  • van den Broek, E.L., Co-Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date27 May 2011
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-3178-8
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2011


  • Psychology
  • Virtual Reality (VR)
  • Spatial cognition
  • Perception
  • HMI-VRG: Virtual Reality and Graphics
  • HMI-HF: Human Factors
  • Visual Spatial Ability (VSA)
  • Synthetic environments


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