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Inducing feelings of fear with virtual reality : the influence of multisensory stimulation on negative emotional experience





In a natural environment, affective events often convey emotional cues through multiple sensory modalities. Yet, the effect of multisensory affective events on the conscious emotional experience (feelings) they induce remains relatively undiscovered. The present research exploited the unique advantages of virtual reality techniques to examine the negative emotional experience induced by auditory-visual aversive events embedded in a natural context. In natural contexts, the spatial distance between the perceiver and the affective stimuli is an important factor. Consequently, this research investigated the relationship between affect, multisensory presentation and space. A first study using virtual reality tested the influence of auditory-visual aversive stimuli on negative emotional experience. A second study explored the effect of excessive fear on the representation of close space. A third study examined the effect of auditory-visual stimuli on negative emotional experience as a function of their location at close or far distances from the perceiver. Overall, it was found that negative emotional experience is modulated by the sensory and spatial characteristics of aversive events. Multisensory aversive events amplify negative feelings only when they are located at close distances from the perceiver. Moreover, excessive fear related to an event extends the space, wherein the event is represented as close. Taken together, the present research provides new information about affective processing and exposes virtual reality as a relevant tool for the study of human affect.

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