Bernhard E. Riecke
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Can interactive virtual reality elicit awe for improved
And, what are the design considerations for successful
awe-inspiring VR systems?
Methods and Materials
16 participants spent 20 minutes interacting with VR to
travel, visit natural wonders, and orbit Earth through Google
Earth VR using a HTC Vive headset and hand controller
Three datasets collected: Physiological goose bumps,
introspective survey ratings, and interviews.
• Goose bumps were recorded on the skin with a video camera
• Surveys included ratings on the reported level of awe
• Semi-structured, open ended interviews provided further
insight into the phenomenon
Phase 1: instructed participants to travel to the experimenter-
selected locations (a city and a natural wonder); Phase 2:
personalization that allowed participants to travel to any place
of their choosing.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Interactive VR has a powerful capacity to elicit awe,
especially within personalized environments. Physiological
goose bumps provide reliable, non-intrusive indications of
awe, and introspective data can provide valuable insights
into the VR system qualities and the experience of awe so we
can design effective awe-inspiring experiences. Care must be
taken to design interaction interfaces that do not impede awe.
Future work involves testing the effectiveness of our new,
custom VR system designed to elicit awe. We aim to use
additional physiological sensors to complement goose bumps
and introspective data collection.
Participants rated awe 79.7 (out of 100); 43.8% of
participants experienced goose bumps
• Most goose bumps were seen in Phase 2, personalization phase
(60% of goose bump occurrences)
ratings of awe than those who did not: t(14) = 2.82, p = .014,
r = .36
• Verbal indications of awe were made by all participants
• Those who experienced awe revealed feeling calmed by the
experience (N=7), and increased curiousity (N=9)
• Profound social connection with their home, friends, and
families (N=11), mainly during the personalization phase
• 10 of 16 struggled with the controllers (interaction interface);
despite a 360 degree environment, looking around was not
intuitive and many relied on controllers to manipulate the
environment (a possible artefact of face-forward, seated
• Participants who struggled with the interaction interface
reported distraction from the virtual environment, which
could impede awe
Presented at 3rd Annual Innovations
in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health:
Virtual Reality and Behavior Change
Stanford University School of Medicine
A bird’s eye view,
Mount Everest in Google Earth VR
visible on arm
Connected Through Awe
Can Interactive Virtual Reality Elicit Awe
for Improved Well-Being?
Awe has wellness and educational benets
Characteristics include feelings of social interconnectivity ,
shifts in perspective , and increased life satisfaction 
• Awe is a rare experience in our busy everyday lives, and rarer
in a lab setting 
goose bumps (quantitative) [5,6] and themes of awe
descriptions (qualitative) 
• Interactive Virtual Reality (VR) could help make immersive,
awe-inspiring experiences accessible to people .