Dec 21, 2016

The Gadget Show asks Sensum to measure emotional responses to VR content

Phase One - Build a truly terrifying digital experience

Knowing that horror content is the best at eliciting extreme responses from viewers, Jason worked with the Virtual Reality (VR) game design team at Imagination to develop a bespoke VR horror experience. Inspired by Blair Witch, they designed something truly terrifying with the hope of provoking reactions from people. VR software development company KoffeeCup then created a VR version of the experience, which participants could interact with using an HTC Vive VR device.

Phase Two - Create a baseline level of engagement with 2D content

As in any experiment, it’s impossible to measure the increase of an effect unless you have a baseline which shows the “norm”. In this case we needed to establish how engaged people were when they experienced the horror in a normal 2D format so that we could see if the VR experience engagement levels differed. Our team use wearable devices to measure heart rate and Galvanic Skin Response to determine engagement levels. The more emotionally engaged someone is, the higher the results of both of these physiological reactions will be.

Phase Three - See just how engaging the VR experience is

After collecting the 2D benchmark scores, we were ready to send our participants into the full VR experience. Using the same heart rate monitors and galvanic skin response sensors as before, we were able to see that the first spikes in engagement appeared when an army of spiders emerged from inside a tree stump. The next spike occurred when a flock of bats flew into the participants’ faces. Heart rates continued to increase as the VR horror movie progressed. As the participants realised they were surrounded by pagan worshippers in their virtual world, they hit their highest rates. It was the appearance of a terrifying stagman at the end of the movie that sent GSR and heart rate levels through the roof!


After completing analysis, results showed there was a significant increase in BPM in the VR experience, even when you took the participants’ ability to move around into account – average was 96 bpm compared to the benchmark average of 67 (increase of 43%)

In the case of skin conductance, the viewers became more and more frightened as the VR movie went on, with the average being 54 arousal score (a significant increase of 107%). This was a contrast to the 2D results in which showed viewers’ fear levels actually dropped.

Overall, we can confidently confirm that VR is more immersive and engaging than 2D content. The ongoing progress of VR technology has made content so effective that Jason suggests Virtual Reality may need to be renamed ‘Real Reality’ soon enough! Ultimately, VR is streets ahead of normal viewing experiences and it is a fundamental technology platform that will emotionally engage consumers.

Want to see it for yourself?

In case you missed it, you can watch our experiment on The Gadget Show here. (Tip: The experiment starts at 26 minutes in… enjoy!)