The influence of stress on the affective appraisal and on the recognition of a virtual environment: A study of serious gaming
Welie, M.L. van
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Serious gaming is more and more used to train people in performing stressful tasks. To correctly design and use serious games, it is important to study all aspects of these games. In this study we investigated the influence of stress on the affective appraisal of a virtual environment and recognition of objects in a virtual environment. The experimental sample consisted of 52 male volunteers (M = 23.37 years), who have been divided among four groups, i.e. stress group that navigated in the light virtual environment, stress group that navigated in the dark virtual environment, neutral group that navigated in the light virtual environment, and neutral group that navigated in the dark virtual environment. The participants in the stress groups were subjected to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), which consists of a free speech task and an arithmetic task. It induces psychosocial stress and captures the integrated aspects of an individual’s physiological and psychological responses. The two virtual environments used in this study were a light and a dark version of the Counter-Strike® level Italy (Source Engine 7). Before performing the task in the virtual environment (exploration of a virtual village) the stress groups performed the TSST for 20 minutes and the neutral groups read for 20 minutes. After exploration of the village all participants had to complete a semantic questionnaire, which consisted of twenty adjectives that can be used to describe an environment (scales: sleepy, arousing, pleasant, unpleasant), and a recognition test, which comprised twenty screenshots taken from objects that are present in the computer game Counter-Strike®. Participants’ stress level has been determined by the salivary cortisol level, the heart rate and the results of a state anxiety inventory. Three hypotheses regarding affective appraisal of the virtual environment have been tested. The results revealed a significant lightness level main effect on the scales pleasant and unpleasant, but no significant stress level main effect on all scales and no significant stress level × lightness level interaction on all scales. Three hypotheses regarding recognition of objects in the virtual environment have been tested. The results revealed no significant lightness level main effect, no significant stress level main effect, and no significant stress level × lightness level interaction. To investigate whether another grouping of participants revealed other results, three new groups have been established according to the cortisol data (neutral, moderate stress and profound stress group). It appeared that there are no significant main effects and interaction effects at all. Thus, affective appraisal and recognition are not that much influenced by stress.