Virtual Animals as Diegetic Attention Guidance Mechanisms in 360-Degree Experiences

Nahal Norouzi, Gerd Bruder, Austin Erickson, Kangsoo Kim,  Jeremy Bailenson, Pamela Wisniewski, Charlie Hughes, and Greg Welch (2021), “Virtual Animals as Diegetic Attention Guidance Mechanisms in 360-Degree Experiences,” in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, doi: 10.1109/TVCG.2021.3106490.


360-degree experiences such as cinematic virtual reality and 360-degree videos are becoming increasingly popular. In most examples, viewers can freely explore the content by changing their orientation. However, in some cases, this increased freedom may lead to viewers missing important events within such experiences. Thus, a recent research thrust has focused on studying mechanisms for guiding viewers’ attention while maintaining their sense of presence and fostering a positive user experience. One approach is the utilization of diegetic mechanisms, characterized by an internal consistency with respect to the narrative and the
environment, for attention guidance. While such mechanisms are highly attractive, their uses and potential implementations are still not well understood. Additionally, acknowledging the user in 360-degree experiences has been linked to a higher sense of presence and connection. However, less is known when acknowledging behaviors are carried out by attention guiding mechanisms. To close these gaps, we conducted a within-subjects user study with five conditions of no guide and virtual arrows, birds, dogs, and dogs that acknowledge the user and the environment. Through our mixed-methods analysis, we found that the diegetic virtual animals resulted in a more positive user experience, all of which were at least as effective as the non-diegetic arrow in guiding users towards target events. The acknowledging dog received the most positive responses from our participants in terms of preference and user experience and significantly improved their sense of presence compared to the non-diegetic arrow. Lastly, three themes emerged from a qualitative analysis of our participants’ feedback, indicating the importance of the guide’s blending in, its acknowledging behavior, and participants’ positive associations as the main factors for our participants’ preferences.