Virtual Earthgazing - towards an overview effect in Virtual Reality


How can we use immer­sive VR to give people piv­otal pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences with­out having to send them out into space?


We went to the Moon as tech­ni­cians, we returned as human­i­tar­i­ans” reflected Edgar Mitchell after his space flight. This describes the overview effect – a pro­found awe-inspiring expe­ri­ence of seeing Earth from space result­ing in a cog­ni­tive shift in world­view, lead­ing to a more con­scious and caring view on our planet. Experiencing Earth from space first-hand made many astro­nauts real­ize that Earth is frag­ile, with­out bor­ders, lead­ing to a feel­ing of con­nect­ed­ness to human­ity and our planet(see astro­nauts’ quotes). Such an aware­ness shift could have a pos­i­tive impact on our soci­ety and planet, espe­cially if we had a tool that allowed for more people to expe­ri­ence it with­out the risk, cost, and envi­ron­men­tal foot­print asso­ci­ated with actual space flight.
To pursue this dream, the iSpace Lab inves­ti­gates how we could best use the poten­tial of immer­sive vir­tual real­ity to give people a glimpse of the overview effect with­out having to send more rock­ets to space. At the same time, we use vir­tual real­ity as a tool allow­ing us to better under­stand the expe­ri­ence and under­ly­ing trig­gers of the overview effect phenomenon.

To this end, we will design a set of intro­spec­tive, phys­i­o­log­i­cal and

(1) design a set of intro­spec­tive, phys­i­o­log­i­cal and behav­ioural eval­u­a­tion research tools to better under­stand the overview effect phe­nom­e­non and how immer­sive VR could serve to induce it;

(2) Pilot these research tools as an essen­tial part of our larger research pro­gram through the cre­ation of a VR envi­ron­ment, gain­ing a deeper under­stand­ing of aspects of the per­sonal expe­ri­ences of the OE deliv­ered through VR, and as a result deriv­ing strate­gies for the design of piv­otal VR expe­ri­ences with the long-term goal of induc­ing pos­i­tive social change in the population.

In case you are inter­ested in col­lab­o­rat­ing on this project, please con­tact Bernhard at

Below is our first video explain­ing the over­all idea of the Earthgazement project. Thanks: IAT344 stu­dent team Joanna Chou, Katarina Shao, Lien Chou, & Sidi Zhong!


And here is a recent short project video from Denise about an exper­i­ment from November 2016, where she designed a mixed-methods exper­i­ment to mea­sure levels of intro­spec­tive and phys­i­o­log­i­cal awe in par­tic­i­pants while they explored Earth in Google Earth VR with a HTC Vive. Results indi­cated that indeed, par­tic­i­pants were awed by the con­tent and medium. Below is a short project video for a 2-page extended abstract that will be pre­sented at the IEEE Symposium on 3D User Interfaces (as part of IEEE VR) in March:

Quesnel, D., & Riecke, B. E. (2017). Awestruck: Natural Interaction with Virtual Reality on Eliciting Awe. Presented at the IEEE Symposium on 3D User Interfaces 3DUI.

here’s a great video explain­ing the bigger pic­ture of the overview effect and how it mat­ters (by the plan­e­tary col­lec­tive — thanks!)

Katerina recently gave an overview pre­sen­ta­tion on our earth­gaze­ment project in SIAT’s research col­lo­quium that we recorded, her talk starts at 1:09:55 [please excuse sound issues due to WiFi interference… ]

Denise also recently gave a short talk explor­ing the meth­ods we could use to mea­sure if par­tic­i­pants might really expe­ri­ence awe and an overview effect in VR. Her talk is enti­tled: “Are you awed yet? Objective and sub­jec­tive indi­ca­tors of awe, using vir­tual real­ity con­tent” [Denise’ talk start­ing at 32:46]

Related Publications

Quesnel, D., & Riecke, B. E. (2017). Awestruck: Natural Interaction with Virtual Reality on Eliciting Awe. Presented at the IEEE Symposium on 3D User Interfaces 3DUI. (Download)