Virtual reality environments are increasingly being used to encourage individuals to exercise more regularly, including as part of treatment those with mental health or neurological disorders. The success of virtual environments likely depends on whether a sense of presence can be established, where participants become fully immersed in the virtual environment. Exposure to virtual environments is associated with physiological responses, including cortical activation changes. Whether the addition of a real exercise within a virtual environment alters sense of presence perception, or the accompanying physiological changes, is not known. In a randomized and controlled study design, moderate-intensity Exercise (i.e., self-paced cycling) and No-Exercise (i.e., automatic propulsion) trials were performed within three levels of virtual environment exposure. Each trial was 5 minutes in duration and was followed by posttrial assessments of heart rate, perceived sense of presence, EEG, and mental state. Changes in psychological strain and physical state were generally mirrored by neural activation patterns. Furthermore, these changes indicated that exercise augments the demands of virtual environment exposures and this likely contributed to an enhanced sense of presence.
ASJC Scopus subject areas