Michael A. Shapiro Daniel G. McDonald Cornell University
Virtual (VR) reality has the potential to involve users in sensory worlds that are indistinguishable or nearly indistinguishable from the real world. In addition, virtual reality environments may even merge with the real world ( Krueger, 1990). "A computer presence will permeate the workplace and the home, available whenever a need is felt. . . . Such interfaces may resemble the real world or include devices . . . that have no antecedents in the real world. . . . Artificial realities . . . need not conform to physical reality any more than our homes mirror the outside environment" ( Krueger, 1990 p. 422).
As the distinction blurs between the physical and computer environments, people will need to make increasingly sophisticated judgments about what is "real" and what is not. Thus, it may be useful to examine what we know about how people make reality judgments about existing communication media and how such judgments might apply to VR.
For many years, considerable research has focused on understanding how audiences decide what experiences, including mediated experiences, should be perceived as real and which should be included in deciding what the world is really like. We expect that aspect of communication research to become increasingly important as technologies like virtual reality make it possible to both mimic and to modify our perceptual bases of understanding in increasingly complex ways.
In this chapter, we hope to do several things: show that communication and social psychology research in the past 100 years has identified two different aspects of reality evaluation; outline the critical elements that might form a theory of media reality effects; extend that theory to include