Laboratory of Cognitive Science & Immersive Virtual Reality Università degli studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli - Dipartimento di Psicologia

Main Research Areas

Spatial cognition: behaviour, neural bases, ageing and blindness

The research focuses on the perception and representation of spatial information, on the navigational abilities in the environment and on the integration of visual and proprioceptive information. By using virtual reality technologies, it is possible to set up highly controlled and reproducible experiments while keeping at good level the ecological richness of the environment. We are currently using our virtual reality technology for the following research projects:
1) how egocentric and allocentric spatial reference frames work in healthy adults;
3) topographical orientation systems and basic spatial abilities in neuropsychological patients;
4) role of visual experience and spatial encoding in blind people;
5) age-related changes in the structure of the human spatial cognition;
2) how spatial and temporal factors interact in collision prediction of dynamic objects.

Environmental psychology and applied IVR

Environmental psychology is a broad and multidisciplinary scientific field that focuses on the interactions between individuals and their current surroundings. Nowadays, the virtual reality softwares allow the researchers to create an artificial world in a 1:1 scale that provides users with a sense of “being there” in the environment and allows them to interact in real time with it. This technological apparatus, combined with classical psychological and psychophysical methods, could provide a new understanding of the impact of the perceived environment on individuals.
We are currently using the virtual reality lab in the following environmental psychology projects:
1) acoustic comfort aboard different real-world transportation means (e.g. metros) by means of subjective annoyance and cognitive performance measures;
2) effect of different levels of noise on human cognitive processes;
3) impact of audio-visual characteristics of the context (traffic noise, wind-farms, motorways, urban noise…) on cognitive, subjective and emotional reactions; 4) ante-operam and post-operam virtual projects of buildings, open spaces, infrastructures.

Sensorimotor representation of self and others in space

How humans represent the space around them depends on their action possibilities and on the presence of others individuals. The near body space or peripersonal space has a special status because contains the objects with which is possible to act, while extrapersonal space contains all the elements beyond arm reaching possibility. Clearly, near body space is also crucial for our interaction with other people and for acting together with them. Virtual Reality Technology let us modify the position and size of objects in controlled scenarios as well as creating virtual agents (or avatars) whose location, body posture and movement pattern can be modified according to the relevant experimental goals.
We are currently using our virtual reality technology for the following projects:
1) role of sensorimotor simulation in the spatial encoding of peripersonal spaces;
2) role of the other’s action possibility on spatial encoding by manipulating avatars body posture;
3) remapping of peripersonal space of the other’s.

Social influence on peripersonal space: action, emotion, believes

The use of spatial distance is an intrinsic component of our daily interactions with objects and people. The ability to recognize socially relevant information from other humans is critical for living together, and facial expressions could provide powerful non-verbal cues to represent the context and regulate our spatial behavior. Bringing together neurocognitive and social psychology literature, the research explores how the social valence of stimuli modulates the near body space. In the social psychology literature, different kinds of stimuli representing the interactant have been used: real confederates, paper and pencil materials, manikins. Thanks to the virtual reality technology, we can use virtual agents that resemble real people though maintaining a good control over a variety of factors that can undermine real world experimental settings. Using 3D modelling and animation tools such as 3ds Max it is possible to modify the facial expression of avatars in a naturalistic way and make them move in space.
We are currently using our 3D graphical softwares and virtual reality technologies in the following projects:
1) how basic social characteristics such as age and gender affect body space boundaries under different movement conditions;
2) effect of top down belief manipulation affect peripersonal space;
3) approach and avoidance actions in spatial processing of emotional stimuli;
4) body space and spatial behaviour in the interaction with virtual humans displaying different emotional facial expressions.

Mental imagery

Mental Imagery can be defined as the capacity to voluntarily simulate a sensorimotor experience. The research focuses on visuo-spatial and motor imagery with healthy people, blind people and patients with motor deficits.
1) visuo-spatial and motor imagery in blind people and patients (based on mental scanning and mental walking tasks);
2) role of visuo-spatial and motor resources in capacity to manipulate mental images (based on several kinds of mental rotation tasks).