How can Immersive Media Technology Support Understanding of Mindfulness?

by Dave Zimmerman

Posted on September 10, 2019 at 4:30 PM

Virtual Zen Garden

Immersive Media (IM) can provide new ways for audiences to experience, and understand mindfulness practices. There are dimensions to the mindfulness experience that are highly subjective and could be explored through IM such as 360° photography and Virtual Reality (VR). This research project covers the deployment of VR technology in mindfulness practices, exploring related approaches in the mindfulness domain, such as mindfulness-based applications (MBA). While there are many hardware and software solutions which collect data on meditative activities, such as sitting and breathing, much less is known about how users interact in a virtual meditative environment. The ability to give participants the same meditative environment, regardless of geography, is significant to mindfulness studies, and the development of related content for training, therapy, and general well-being. 

This study researched the behaviour of participants in a virtual environment (VE) which is conducive to meditation. By placing the participants in an immersive environment and giving them a level of agency within it, emotional responses could develop within them. Biofeedback analysis was implemented using a skin response device, to reveal unconscious shifts in emotion as the participant engaged with the VR experience. This allowed for the quantification and measurement of emotional responses, which was used for comparison across VR platforms and identification of trends in behaviour.

To determine the quality and effectiveness of the IM experiences throughout the experiment, surveys, questionnaires and interviews will be used to collect qualitative data. Data on participants' initial impressions of meditation and VR will be collected before the first trial. Impressions of the initial experience with the first VE and changes in attitude were collected before the second trial.  Finally, after the second trial, impressions of the overall impact of the VEs along with expressed willingness to learn more and participate further were collected.

To do this, a VE of a Zen Garden was developed and implemented for two different IM on two different VR systems. Three Wheels, a Shin Buddhist Temple located in West London, allowed their Zen garden to be used for this study ( As a comparative study, the both VEs were made to be as close to the actual Zen garden as possible, for the 360° photography, that was a straightforward photo shoot, but for the simulation, blueprints were required, and necessary textures for 3D objects were created from photos taken in the garden. One of the VEs used a Google Pixel smartphone with the Google Daydream headset to view 360° photography of the Zen Garden with 3DoF. The other VE used the HTC Vive room-scale VR system to view the Zen Garden as a 6DoF simulation. This simulation was created in the game development software, Unity 2018.


Key findings of the study will include the following…

  • Participants found IM to be effective ways to engage with mindfulness practices, with little regard to the platform or medium

  • Qualitative data supports the notion that IM can have a positive impact  on participant attitudes and behavioural intentions

  • Quantitative biofeedback results show an increase in skin resistance to electrical conductivity over time, an indication of a calming of the body


Research Proposal

Over centuries of development, practices have emerged which nurture and optimise the mindfulness process. These practices include the repetition of specific thoughts and words, called mantras, and physical activities such as breathing exercises, slow walking or sitting for extended periods, known as meditation. Meditation is paradoxical, in that, to do it is to actively do nothing. Its effect on the individual is unique to that individual and the degree to which it fosters mindfulness can be difficult for a practitioner to measure and nearly impossible for an outside observer. This paper thereby aims to establish a new model for researching mindfulness, and observe the underlying neural processes involved in typical practice.

This study will evaluate immersive media and its suitability in mindfulness practices. As interest in VR and IM increase, their application in non-entertainment contexts is leading to trends in MBA development. These trends can lead developers to claim that their MBAs promote “mindfulness”, “meditation”, or “relaxation” without the necessary research and evidence to validate such claims. Observations will be made, with a focus on the meditative experience within the mindfulness domain and whether IM can effectively facilitate empirical understanding of mindfulness through meditation.

Studies have concluded that meditation has positive benefits to the mind and body, yet many people have never done it nor intend to actively seek it. One of the most critical factors in the meditative experience is the environment in which the activity is conducted, with ideal conditions including quiet, natural settings with limited distractions.  The constraints of modern life are such that people may not be able to find quiet places conveniently, and people with mobility constraints may find travel impossible. This is where IM can play a significant role, providing a VE in which to conduct meditative practice.

In exploring the question, “How can Immersive Media Technology support understanding of Mindfulness?” this research intends to…

  • Explore uses of immersive media and virtual environments in regards to the effect of immersion on participant experience

  • Collect and analyse the qualitative data related to participant attitudes and behavioural intentions

  • Evaluate quantitative biofeedback data related to the unconscious processing of stimuli


Western interest in Eastern Buddhist traditions has lead to scientific research into metaphysical phenomena and transcendental philosophy which has contributed the structuring and standardisation of psychological methods to address stress, pain and mental health problems. As a method for improving well-being, meditation is well established in Asian culture and has become increasingly popular in the West. With this surge in popularity, many software applications have been developed to monitor and track mindfulness activities.  

But do these apps truly assist to the user to achieve states of mindfulness even if they are merely responses to marketing trends? In Western culture, trends in mindfulness practices are supported by the perceived ability to “fix” mental problems, achieve self-fulfilment and enhance personal productivity. Mindfulness, stripped from its process-oriented philosophical roots, is viewed as a goal-oriented medical treatment. The commodification of mindfulness has produced MBAs that are designed to promote their own use rather than the user’s spiritual journey. In regards to the mindfulness domain, research into the effectiveness of VR is growing, yet it is still limited. The purpose of this literature review is to identify what is known about the individual experience of VR, describe some attitudes towards the use of VR for mindfulness practices, and justify the reasons for further exploration. In doing so, evidence towards the effectiveness of IM and VR as delivery methods for mindfulness practice, rooted in authentic traditions, to reach wider audiences could be discovered.


Design Process

Developing a VE for mindfulness required careful consideration for the user’s experience. In Japanese culture, the influence of Zen Buddhism has produced a gardening style and visual aesthetic that has been used in mindfulness meditation for centuries. Due to its long standing reputation as a tool for mindfulness practice, creating IM content based on this gardening style was considered appropriate for this study. Two experiences were developed based on the same location, a Zen garden located in West London. The Zen garden was designed to fit into a typical London back garden. This compact design directs the user’s attention naturally towards the rocks that emerge from waves of gravel. The viewing platform in enclosed, giving it a sense of privacy and safety.

The experiences differed in their methods of development as well as the hardware and software required to deliver the content. The Degrees of Freedom (DoF) of the experiences differ in relationship to their development and delivery as well. DoF refers to the tracking system a VR headset employs to render content within an immersive experience. 3DoF relates to the rotational positioning of the user’s headset along the X, Y, and Z axes while 6DoF includes translational positioning along these axes as well. The tracking information is sent to the IM software to generate image data which is sent to the headset for rendering within its displays. The images displayed are rendered in real time as new DoF data is processed. Low latency in image rendering gives the user a feeling of presence within the VE, lending credibility to the experience.


Fig. 1. Google Daydream Mobile VR Platform

Fig. 2. HTC Vive Room-Scale VR


Design and Development of Mobile VE

To begin the task of testing VEs for their effectiveness in mindfulness practice, an initial design plan was required to direct the development of project assets. With the 3Dof VE, a photo shoot was arranged with a 360° camera. The camera captures images in eight directions at 4K quality and processes them together into one continuous image. Environmental sounds were captured with a spatial audio recorder to be played along with the visual content to deepen immersion into the virtual experience.


Fig. 3. Insta 360 Stereoscopic Camera

Fig. 4. H2N Spatial Audio Recorder


The composite image was then flattened out into an equirectangular image, which was uploaded to Google Photos for VR integration. Google Photos recognised the image and rendered it as a 360° spherical image.  This image was then downloaded onto a VR enabled Google Pixel smartphone for display in a Google Daydream VR headset. From the VR headset, the image was QA tested for resolution, colour balance, and orientation.


Fig. 5. Equirectangular Image – Full image

Fig. 6. Equirectangular Image – 360° Image


Design and Development of Room-Scale VE

For the 6DoF VE, blueprints were used to recreate a location in game development software. To make the environment look as accurate as possible, acquisition of relevant content was conducted, with photos of the location taken and textures created from them and wrapped around the 3D models.  To create the VEs, the captured content was integrated into an appropriate software package. Unity 2018 is an Integrated Development Environments (IDE) for building games. It is also used in architectural visualisation, which is why it was selected for this study.

Using blueprints of the Zen garden, basic shapes were modified to create walls, wooden planks, bricks, tiles, thatch roofing, shingled roofing, large pebbles, gravel and other architectural objects. To maintain real-world proportions, measurement cubes were used to create an environment intended to feel true to the viewer. Textures were then applied to the objects to create the impression of physical material.


Fig. 7. Measurement cubes and blueprints

Fig. 8. Textures created in Unity 2018 IDE


C# was used to write code that would deform a 3D plane to create the ripple effects that are present in the gravel within the Zen garden. This code is contained within a “tessellation shader” file, which was applied to a flat plane to generate thousands of polygons within it, allowing it to make its surface flexible. A “deformation shader” was then applied to the plane to control the style and intensity of the ripples in the gravel plane. Finally, a gravel texture was applied to the deformed tessellation plane makes it look like raked gravel.


Fig. 9. Tessellation shader applied to plane

Fig. 10. Gravel texture applied to a deformed plane


Unity Asset Store was used to import royalty-free game objects that were too complex to create for the experiment. These assets included trees, rocks, and a day/night weather system. The prototype was developed on an ACER GTX Predator 17 gaming laptop, using HTC Vive and SteamVR for play-testing. Hand-held controllers were not required.


Fig. 11. 6Dof Room Scale VE



Distinctions between platforms

While the platforms differ in hardware and software used to deliver the content, they also differ in the accessibility of the technology. This lack of accessibility could be a factor in whether participants would consider buying a VR device in the future to further explore VR mindfulness-based applications. Mobile VR is more accessible due to the popularity of the smartphone with 85% of the UK population in possession of one. Flexible payment plans make mobile VR more affordable to a wider population. Additionally, most of the components to deliver the content are built into a single device that slides into a lightweight headset. Room-Scale VR, on the other hand, requires a VR ready PC, usually a gaming PC, the process the 3D content. A VR-ready PC that can cost anywhere from £700 - £1900, not including a high definition monitor or other peripherals. The VR system itself costs around £500, and the headsets are heavier due to the additional sensors that track movement in 3D space. Although payment plans do exist, the cost alone can be enough to discourage people from buying a functional room-scale VR system.

With all of the necessary equipment acquired and the VEs developed, the next step was to set up the testing environment. A play area was calibrated for the Room-Scale VR which also served as the testing area for mobile VR. Surround sound speakers were set up on the corners of the play area to play natural sounds on a separate media player to maintain a consistent audio experience across VR platforms. A swivelling stool was place in the centre of the play area and a GSR sensor was connected to a PC to record biofeedback.


Fig. 12. VE Room Setup with Surround Sound Speakers and GSR Sensor



Impact of VR/AR Technology

Innovations in connectivity, rendering, and display technologies have improved the quality of service for VR experiences, making it a viable tool for mindfulness practice. The advent of mobile VR through smartphone handsets has made immersive media more accessible than ever. With increasing acceptance of room-scale VR and Augmented Reality (AR) in the home, workplace, and greater society, global economic forecasts predict that these technologies will contribute $4.7 - $41.1 billion in 2020, depending on adherence to a range of adoption rate scenarios. Investments in IM technologies are making them more ubiquitous with each passing year. It is projected that VR/AR could surpass the economic contributions of smartphones and tablets to become the tech industry’s dominant computing platform, with projected sales of VR/AR headsets between 2016 and 2020 ranging $18.5 million to $160 million.


Applications of VR/AR Technology

The expansion of IM application development has benefits to a wide range of industries and human pursuits. Not only has IM made significant impact in the realms of gaming, e-learning, architectural design, product prototyping, psychotherapy, and simulation training, but it also has been applied to the archiving of historical locations for future generations. In a time of profound climate change, and over population, many sites are at risk of destruction. For instance, architectural visualisation and VR have been used to recreate sites of cultural significance, such as ancient temples for historical preservation. These virtual sites can be enjoyed without the environmental impacts that come with travel and tourism. The digital nature of VEs means that unlimited numbers of people can experience the exact same environment regardless of the ravages of time.   This level of control of the environment makes IM especially suitable for experiments involving individual perspective and perception. For example, VR has been used in several studies pertaining to dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) with the same VE used to facilitate mindfulness  in cases of borderline personality disorder, spinal cord injury, and generalised anxiety disorder. This demonstrates that the accessibility and consistency of a VR experience can make it very useful as a tool for medical purposes.


The Experience of VR/AR Technology

Research into the nature of virtual experiences has uncovered the importance of the feeling of immersion on the individual. Immersion creates the phenomenon of embodiment, the feeling of possession of a virtual body, allow the user to feel safe to explore and react to situations in a virtual environment. Immersion can also invoke a sense of disembodiment when the viewer is not transferred into an avatar, but is simply an observer with no agency. This lack of body-ownership can be compared it to an out-of-body experience. For the VR user, the feeling of having no body can have a range of psychological, behavioural, and emotional effects. For example, even if the user feels that they have been transported to a new location which contains some dangerous situations, the strength of reaction to perceived physical harm can be reduced due to the absence of a physical body and by extension, the urge for self-preservation. This is most readily noticed when the VR user waves a hand in front of their headset-blocked eyes without a handheld controller so they do not see a hand in the virtual world. It can give the user the feeling of being a ghost, able to observe the world and yet unable to engage with it. While disembodiment can free the user of socially conditioned constraints to behaviour, the power of embodiment can be used to create empathy within the user by having them experience a world through different eyes, making VR a potentially powerful tool for the teaching and learning in general.


VR as a tool for Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness, as a practical excercise, is not rooted in any cultural tradition; rather it has been extracted primarily from Buddhism as well as other asian mystical traditions. Due to this disconnection, misinterpretation of mindfulness practice could occur, and shape impressions of Buddhism, from which it is derived. Some Buddhist scholars suggest that spiritual practice through VR would benefit from a structural framework to form and maintain relationships with trained Dharma teachers to safeguard against destabilisation of the user’s journey and support them through transformative experiences.  There are many misconceptions associated with mindfulness practice. These include the idea that good meditation is dependent on the quietening of the mind. Giving the mind a place to rest and wander freely can actually allow the mind calm down naturally. With all of the different methods of practicing mindfulness meditation available, such as “paying attention”, “living in the moment”, “accepting yourself”, and “focussing on the breath”, people can feel that they are not doing it right and that it is too difficult. This feeling can be compounded by the idea that one does not have the time to meditate. What if there was a quiet place that one could go to at anytime where they could allow their mind to wander, free of judgement? A virtual Zen garden could be that place.


Possible directions of exploration

The adoption of digital media to encounter mindfulness practice is well established, with websites and online forums available, so why VR technology has not been more widely-explored by developers for mindfulness purposes is remains unclear to this investigation. VR and meditation are both highly subjective and uniquely personal experiences and a deeper, emotional dimension to meditation that can be revealed through VR. Finding an effective method to deliver that experience and developing a framework for its further development could support the establishment of guidelines for the design of VR systems used in mindfulness practice. In doing so, new avenues for MBAs can be created, allowing a wider audience to access these kinds of experiences.

It is also unclear to this investigation as to whether the use of VR in meditation would be a valid method to experience mindfulness. While most VR experiences are in some way exciting to the user, a VR Zen garden could frame a new perspective on VR experiences by calming the viewer’s mind and facilitating understanding of this esoteric practice. As an introduction to VR, this type of content could appeal to people with little interest in IM, hopefully ensuring a positive initial experience. Studies have been conducted in VR and meditation, in which the participants were virtually transported onto a slow moving river, while pre-recorded guided meditation audio was played.  There have also been studies in 360° photography, where the participant was virtually transported to a remote mountain range while listening guided meditation audio. While separate studies have been made using different VR content on different VR platforms, it is unclear to this investigation, whether a study which uses very similar IM content across different platforms to compare their effectiveness has been explored.


What's The Point?

With user interactivity at the core of most software, and gamification as a method to encourage that interactivity, do these apps develop mindfulness or get in the way of being mindful? VR technology within the context of mindfulness practice could complement existing mindfulness applications while improving effectiveness and deepening immersion in future virtual experiences. There is a possibility, that mindfulness-based VR applications could, like many other mindfulness applications, be produced with the purpose of monetizing mindfulness. MBAs produced with this ethos appropriate Asian and Buddhist cultural motifs to sell mindfulness products for emotional regulation and self-help rather than to connect their users to the fundamental truths of individual consciousness, their relationship with society, the world and future generations that is rooted in Buddhist teachings. This can lead to a hollow experience that defeats the original purpose of mindfulness practice.

Historically, shrines, statues, colourful paintings and geometric patterns, have been used by mindfulness practitioners as visual aids to facilitate meditation. These mindfulness tools have effectively connected user attention to fundamental concepts and practices for centuries. The Zen garden, with its calm beauty, is a form of abstract minimal landscape design which uses raked gravel to represent water. As an art form, with the interplay of form and empty space, the Zen garden has been used to invoke a sense of peacefulness and serenity for mindfulness practitioners and casual visitors alike. Immersive media, with its ability to rapidly access a wide range of visual and aural content, could be another tool in the meditation toolbox.

VR has grown into much more than an entertainment platform with immersive applications in many industries for learning, training, designing, developing, and communicating. VR could impact the time taken to experience the benefits of meditation and affect frustrations that can be associated with the discipline required to meditate. Using immersive technology to simply be with one’s self in a controlled environment could yield interesting results. Meditation is a natural way to settle emotional states and by using biofeedback sensors in conjunction with VR, meditation could reveal subtle mental and physical effects of immersive media on individual subjects.


Expected Contribution

Whether this technology can actually lead to greater mindfulness or lead users to greater distraction remains a worthwhile pursuit. In an evaluative study, it was revealed that out of 700 mindfulness-based smartphone apps, only 4% actually provided training and education in mindfulness. Rather, as this report indicates, most of these apps worked as a portal to mindfulness-based content, such as guided meditation audio files, and tools for mediation, such as timers, and automated reminders.  Further evaluation from the study found that the popular apps mostly ranked to be of acceptable quality, but there were not many ranked to be of high quality. This brings into question, the effectiveness of the mindfulness apps that are on the market.

In response to this lack of high quality MBA experiences, a positive and constructive immersive activity amid a sea of frivolous and unhealthy immersive entertainment options could open mindfulness practice to a wider audience and make a socially responsible contribution. In light of the complexities of modern life, critics question whether VR is an appropriate vehicle for meditative practice. The data collected on the general viewer response to a VR mindfulness experience and the effectiveness between differing immersive media could contribute towards better design of virtual experiences for individual personal development. VEs of this nature could be distributed across gaming platforms such as Steam and Playstation VR to include normal gamers along with the average person. This could encourage future studies of Human-to-Computer and Human-to-Human interaction involving biofeedback and meditation.  For many participants, it could also be the first step towards encountering the people and traditions from which mindfulness practice stems from; Buddhism.



Research Methods

Comparative communication research methods will be used to investigate the substance of the VEs and the method of their delivery, identifying differences and similarities. Contextual descriptions of the VEs have already been expressed in the introduction. Through qualitative data collection, functional equivalents between platforms will be identified in respect to user experience and classified into different aspects of quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE). Once data has been organised it can be compared and explanations based on contextual influences can be used to draw conclusions. Google Forms was used to design and distribute surveys, questionnaires, and semi-structured interview materials to collect data. The participants signed a consent form before pre-assessment and then prepared for the first trial of the study.

Pre-Experiment Survey - Participant Characteristics

To understand who was participating in the experiment, basic qualities regarding age, gender and education of the participants was collected. Trends related to these qualities could lend insight into perceived experience. The majority of participants were female, university graduates, and within 35 – 44 years old. A sizable portion of the sample was male, with some university experience, and of 55 years and older. Although the options were presented, no participants claimed “other” for Gender, or to be of ages 18 – 24.


Fig. 13. Gender

Fig. 14. Age

Fig. 15. Education


Pre-Experiment Survey - Personality Traits

Data related to the participant’s general outlook in regards to interactions with individuals and with greater society was collected. This information could help determine if there is any relationship between personality traits and perception of the different IM platforms. Most participants considered themselves to be socially extroverted. They largely claimed to be of a very liberal political bias with a small portion of the group claiming to be of a conservative bias. Although the options were present in the survey, no participants claimed to be strongly introverted.


Fig. 16. Political Bias

Fig. 17. Social Engagement



Twelve participants were invited to the study and through snowball sampling, another 12 participants were recruited. All participants lived in London with some having mobility issues and/or requiring glasses to see. Accommodations were made for these conditions, with seating options available, and confirmation that headsets would fit around eyewear. If the candidate was considered suitable, they were informed of the nature of the study and the conditions for participation, including the storage and use of data.



To mitigate the impact of bias on the study a range of factors were considered, including construct bias, measurement bias, instrument bias, and sampling bias, with measures implemented for each case. As a comparative study, both VEs were developed to be as similar as possible though the use of blueprints to match with the 360° photography, thus mitigating construct bias. Participants were not evaluating two different locations; they were evaluating the same location interpreted through different mediums. The sample population was very diverse, but strong command of the English language was demonstrated in every participant. Regardless, to minimise measurement bias, it was made clear to every participant that they could ask if there was any confusion about the questions presented in the collection of qualitative data. To avoid instrument bias, the same instruments were used to collect data from every participant, those being the forms for qualitative data and the galvanic skin response (GSR) sensor for quantitative data. In response to potential sampling bias, exponential non-discriminative snowball sampling was used to recruit participants with minimal foreknowledge pertaining to the experiment and the investigator, so as to elicit the most sincere responses to the experience.

Participants attended a testing session with five phases. In the first phase, participants were given a pre-survey assessment to identify subject familiarity and collect demographic data. In phase 2, through random selection, participants experienced an IM on one of the two platforms; immersive 360° photography or room-scale VR. Each experience lasted 5 minutes, commencing and concluding with the chime of a bell. While experiencing the VE, a GSR sensor was worn on one hand to measure the skin’s electrical resistance, an indication of stress. In phase 3, qualitative data was collected in regards to perceived impressions of the VE through a questionnaire. Afterwards the participant will sample the other experience in phase 4, and finally, complete a questionnaire as part of a semi-structures interview to identify any changes in attitudes, and behavioural intentions in phase 5.


Fig. 18. Model for Procedure of Experiment


Participants were asked to enter the VE play area and sit on a height adjustable swivelling stool in the centre. They were given basic instruction to sit comfortable and upright with shoulders back, allowing for deep breathing. Then they put on one of the VR headsets to view the content in any direction and instructed look around and find a comfortable view for the duration of the test. Surround sound speakers we used to play sounds of rusting trees and flowing water that were recorded with a spatial audio microphone. This audio was played on surround sound  speakers to maintain consistent sound output across platforms.


Fig. 19. HTC Vive Room-Scale VR

Fig. 20. Google Daydream Mobile VR


Pre-Experiment Survey - Subject Familiarity

Familiarity with VR, meditation or both could have an impact on perception of the IM experience. In order to determine if this is the case, questions on previous experience with these two subjects were inquired upon. To the degree, if any, that these personality traits relate to attitudes and behaviour intent could be of value to future research. Most participants had never experienced VR but had expressed interest in it from what they had known. While expressing openness to the idea of mindfulness, many had no experience with meditation. Although the options were present in the survey, no participants claimed to own a VR device, or use VR as part of their work.


Fig. 21. Experience with VR

Fig. 22. Experience with Meditation


Qualitative Data

Surveys, questionnaires and interviews used to collect data, were designed to learn more about the QoE perceived during the testing of the VEs. Through 5 point Likert Scale questions, initial impressions of the experience and attitudes towards the content were enquired upon. Median values were used to represent the general tendencies of the participants’ responses with the following quality ratings (5-Excellent, 4-Good, 3-Acceptable, 2-Poor, 1-Inadequate), and to measure attitude (5-Very Positive, 4- Positive, 3-Neutral, 2-Negative, 1-Very Negative). Trends in attitude, behavioural intentions and feedback on the different VR platforms were identified through analysis of the data using Google Sheets.


Quantitative Data

When evaluating interactive experiences, physiological measurements can be used to objectively quantify the subjective experience of the participant throughout the duration of the evaluation to make connections between relevant stimuli and the associated physical response. To collect quantitative data during the experiment, a GSR sensor was employed. Due to the ease of use and comfort in wearing, the GSR was able to collect biofeedback data without impacting the immersive experience. When applied to the hand, the GSR applies a low level electrical current. As the brain processing visual stimuli, signals are sent through the nervous system to the body’s sweat glands. The sweat glands on the hands and feet are densely packed and respond automatically to emotional stimuli, such as joy, fear, and stress, in anticipation of physical action, by modulating the ionic balance in the skin through the secretion of sweat. The ionic balance affects the skins conductivity, which can be measured regardless of actual sweating.


 Fig. 23. Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensor


GSR sensors are commonly used within psychological research to identify emotional responses to stimuli. The GSR used in this study takes readings every 500 - 750 ms and with a 200 - 400 ms delay rate, the data refreshes in the monitor’s graph in near real-time. The properties of particular stimuli can have perceived qualities that change based on the individual’s personality, attitude, cultural background, learning style, and social conditionings as well as other characteristics. When factors such as these are taken into consideration, personas can be created to help researchers to understand behaviour trends.




VR has shown a vast potential for research into the mind and psychological studies. Exploring this subject requires consideration of the impact of these technologies on its subjects. Mindfulness, as a field of study is continuously being defined and refined by scholars that come from a multitude of cultures where mindfulness practices have flourished. This diversity in interpretation means that what mindfulness represents to an individual is mostly subjective, but if an activity leads an individual towards greater compassion towards one’s self, or at least, a cessation of stress-inducing thought patterns, for the purpose of this study, that will be considered a mindfulness activity.

When the testing phase of the experiment had concluded, 24 participants contributed 21 sets of qualitative data over three feedback forms as well quantitative biofeedback data over both, five-minute trials from the GSR monitoring software.  The result seem to follow with the notion that immersive experiences designed with mindfulness at the core of its purpose can effectively impact the user with positive outcomes, both physically and mentally. This impact is in line with the initial question of the study, in that the participants expressed that the immersive nature of the medium had an effect on their experience of the content. The quantitative data shows dynamic change in the participant over the course of the experiment which will be analysed to determine how the IM experience affected participant attitudes and behaviour intentions.  The biofeedback data will also be evaluated against the qualitative data to identify if any trends in participant opinion relate to the unconscious processing of stimuli.


Findings on Attitudes of Participants

Before the initial trial, the majority of participants claimed that they have never experienced immersive media, meaning that this study would be their introduction to VR technology. This would make their initial impressions of the experience presented important, in that this experience could impact potential IM experiences in the future. Although the IM that the participant experienced was chosen randomly, knowing which one had been viewed could affect biofeedback data related to the second IM experience. In this study, Mobile VR was experienced slightly more than Room-Scale VR.


 Fig. 24. First Platform Experienced


Overall, the participants reported positive results in regards to their sense of well-being in the first VE sampled. This sense of well-being was given a very positive (5/5) median rating in the case of Mobile VR, while Room-Scale VR reported a positive (4/5) rating. These initial reports could provide further proof of the ability of VR technology to reduce stress and anxiety, while also improving mindfulness.


Fig. 25. Awareness of Well-Being

Fig. 26. Ease of Use


In regards to ease of use, the participant expressed a high degree of comfort with the headsets, giving mobile VR a good (4/5) median rating and Room-Scale VR an excellent (5/5) rating. The experiences did not call them to act in any way, which meant that they did not have to bother learning controller commands, which could have further influenced the ease of use rating across platforms.

Once the participants had the headsets on, they reported feeling removed from the testing area and place within a Zen garden. The use of VR technology to present to the user, an environment that is not that they would see in the real world is called “transportation”. When the participant is transported into a VE, the sense that they are actually in a place in which they can act of their own agency is called “spatial presence”.


Fig. 27. Transportation

Fig. 28. Spatial Presence


Participants found that both experiences produced a sense of transportation. While the Mobile version had received an “acceptable” median rating of 3/5, the Room-Scale version was considered to have a “good” rating of 4/5. The ability to move and look around with more freedom may have influenced these ratings.  With spatial presence, participants claimed that both experiences have produced the feeling of being in the VE. Room-Scale VR received a rating of 3/5 which is considered “acceptable”, while Mobile VR received a “good” rating of 4/5. While blueprints were used to make the Room-Scale VE as close to real world proportions as possible, the 360° photography is taken directly from the real world and are more spatially accurate, and thus, could have influenced the ratings.   

The degree by which the participants accept the VE as subjective reality could have an impact on other objectives associated with the VE.  Acceptability of the VE is related to a wide range of sensory factors, which relate to the realism of an experience. Nonetheless, even if the VE looks real, it also needs to feel real, which relates to its credibility.


Fig. 29. Realism

Fig. 30. Credibility


Participants reported an excellent sense of realism in regards to the Mobile VR with a 5/5 rating, while Room-Scale VR received a good rating of 4/5. This rating is expected due to the quality of the high resolution 4K 360° photography. Although Mobile VR was considered more realistic that Room-Scale VR, both experiences were reported to be highly credible, as both received median ratings of 5/5.


Summary of findings on attitudes

The premise that a radical change in environment is enough to cause shift in attitude, is supported by the findings of this initial trial through the participants’ responses previously covered. Participants training in the use of VR technology and instruction on how to behave within the VE were limited, to minimise influence on participant’s responses. While the results point towards a positive experience, long-term benefits of this type of experience have yet to be determined. If further mindfulness training were to be conducted, VEs of this design style would be suitable for future study.

Findings on Behavioural Intent

After both experiences had been tested, impressions on the participants’ experience and impact on behaviour intent were inquired upon in a semi-structured interview. Participants were not instructed to be mindful, nor were the cultural context of the VEs explained to them before participation. It was in the interest of the study, that any realisations made by the participants were as spontaneous as possible, and not influenced by prior engagement with the investigator. Whether or not the experience would invoke a feeling to notice their own minds or enact any known mindfulness practice was for the participants to determine.


Fig. 31. Preferred Experience

Fig. 32. Interest in Similar Content


In regards to preferred experience, participants chose Mobile VR slightly more than Room-Scale VR. When asked whether the experience had affected interest in content of a similar nature, those who were preferred Mobile VR was inconclusive in their level of interest, giving the overall experience a median rating of 3/5. Those who preferred Room-Scale VR experienced a positive shift in their level of interest, giving the experience a rating of 4/5.

Whether the experience had helped participants to understand mindfulness was central to the experiment. The participants were not expected to gain an academic or intellectual understanding, as there were no lessons to learn or facts to retain. What the experiment was intended to identify was an experiential understanding which develops insight into mindfulness practice. To this end, participants were asked if the experience was insightful and whether their understanding of mindfulness had improved.


Fig. 33. Insight into Mindfulness Practice

Fig. 34. Improved Understanding of Mindfulness


Participant’s responses show that a majority had claimed to have developed insight into the mindfulness experience. Making this assertion required more reflection for a large minority, who claimed “maybe” in response to the question. In regards to whether understanding of mindfulness had improved a binary response was elicited. The majority of participants claimed that their understanding had improved.

After exploring their thought and feelings regarding the experiment in the previous questions, the participants were asked whether they would willingly act upon this experience to further explore mindfulness and immersive media.


Fig. 35. Willingness to seek similar content

Fig. 36. Willingness to buy a VR device


Participants gave an inconclusive median response (3/5) to the notion of seeking out more mindfulness based immersive content. While participant expressed neither positive nor negative results in regards to the content, the results were slightly more favourable towards the technology itself. While willingness to buy a Mobile VR device was inconclusive (3/5), willingness to buy a Room-Scale VR device was considered positive (4/5).  


Summary of findings on Behaviour intent

After the second VE was tested, participants contributed their impressions of the content and the medium it was presented in. In a semi-structured interview, participants were asked to reflect on what they had experienced and after brief discussion, give their responses in the form. Results had shown a significant improvement in understanding of mindfulness with an improved sense of personal insight. While results were moderately positive in regards to insight and understanding, there were somewhat less positive impacts on the behaviour intent after experiencing the VEs. This could indicate that while the experience was positive, it may take more research to understand factors that would lead to further engagement. Nonetheless, the overall findings were not negative and helped to validate the purpose of the study.


Differences between Platforms

The Mobile VR product was well received by most participants having demonstrated many strengths of quality. The Mobile VR experience was the more preferred of the two IM products, and was reported to have improved awareness of well-being. Participants felt that the Mobile VR experience produced a greater sense of spatial presence within the VE. The Mobile VE also reported a greater sense of realism when compared to Room-Scale VR. On the other hand, the Room-Scale VR product also demonstrated a number of strengths that were distinctive from Mobile VR and indicative of the quality of the experience. Participants reported a greater ease of use and sense of transportation from Room-Scale VR than from its Mobile VR counterpart. Room-Scale VR also invoked a greater interest in mindfulness content along with a greater willingness to buy a VR device.

Overall, understanding of meditation had improved along with a further developed sense of insight into the mindfulness domain. While mobile VR did not inspire interest in or further pursuit of mindfulness based immersive media, it did not negatively impact user willingness either. This may have influenced increased interest in similar content and willingness to buy a VR device by users with that same preference. This interest could be based more on the novelty of the technology rather than the subject matter displayed. Both platforms were equally effective in inspiring willingness to seek out similar content, which was inconclusive (3/5) in its rating. Credibility ratings were most positive with both platforms receiving a 5/5 median rating. Neither platform produced median ratings of inadequate quality.


Biofeedback Data

GSR biofeedback recordings provide another perspective on the participants’ experience with the two IM products. Each participant was monitored within each VE for roughly five minutes. Of the 24 participants, increased skin resistance was experienced in Room-Scale VR in 22 of the 24 tests and in Mobile VR 24 out of 24 tests. A couple participants found room-scale VR to reduce skin resistance. On each reading, trend lines were drawn to determine whether skin conductivity had increased or decreased over time.


Fig. 37. Sample SCR recording with trend lines


The Skin Conductance Responses (SCR) of the participants was plotted onto a graph. Each recording consisted of peaks and valleys that covered the course of each test, showing the level of skin resistance to electrical current. The group’s SCR recordings had shown increases in skin resistance over the course of the 5 minute test sessions with few exceptions. Comparisons of the qualitative data against the qualitative data reveal other findings which contribute greater insight into the relationship between what participants reported and how their bodies reacted. The following cases identify some observations derived from this data. All of the GSR test results can be found in the appendix.


Greater Skin Resistance
Fig. 38. Greater Skin Resistance

Investigation into the relationship between the platforms that produced greater skin resistance when compared to the platform that was preferred by the participants produced the following results:

  • Of the 24 participants, 17 experienced greater Skin Resistance with their preferred platform (70.83%).

  • Of the 14 participants who experienced greater Skin Resistance with Room Scale IM, 9 of them also preferred Room-Scale IM. 64.28%.

  • Of the 10 participants who experienced greater Skin Resistance with Mobile IM, 8 of them also preferred Mobile IM. 80%.


Based upon these findings, there may be a relationship between preferred platform and greater skin resistance. This could be because, if the participant enjoys the experience, they will feel more comfortable, thus reducing the conductivity of the skin. The mobile VR experience yielded higher percentages of preference with greater skin resistance. This could be due to the static nature of the 360° photography along with its greater realism, perhaps it was easier for participants to settle into the experience. The room-scale VR was more dynamic and as a result, more stimulating. While more people found room-scale VR to be more effective in increasing skin resistance, it felt less realistic. This could have affected their choice of preferred VR platform.

Investigation into the first platform experienced by the participant when compared to the platforms that produced greater skin resistance produced the following results...

  • Of the 24 participants, 9 of them experienced greater Skin Resistance in their initial experiences. 37.5%

  • Of the 11 Participants who experienced Room-Scale IM first, 5 of them also had Greater Skin Resistance with Room-Scale IM. 45.45%

  • Of the 13 Participants who experienced Mobile IM first, 4 of them had Greater Skin Resistance with Mobile IM. 30.77%


Based upon these finding, there doesn’t seem to be a relationship between the first platforms experienced by the participant when compared to the platforms that produced greater skin resistance produced. To the contrary, it could be that the platform most recently experienced produces greater skin resistance. There is an element of uncertainty that comes with trying something new. In the first VE, participants could have had anxiety associated with unfamiliar experiences and anticipation of the need to react to unforeseen circumstances. This anxiety may have subsided in the following VE due to familiarity with the content, understanding that the VE was a safe place, allowing the participant to relax.


In this study, the goal was to expose participants to mindfulness-based VEs and to determine their efficacy, based on user feedback. To whether the immersive media effectively engaged participants with mindfulness practice, the following results seem to support this notion.

  • Of the 24 participants, 14 (58.33% )claimed to have never used VR

  • Of the 14 participants who had never experienced VR, 9 claimed to have experienced greater understanding of mindfulness (64.28%).

  • Of the 14 participants who had never experienced VR, 8 claimed to have experienced greater insight into mindfulness (57.14%).


As the first experience using VR, the impressions made could impact the attitudes and behavioural intentions of these participants in deeper and more profound ways. For example, the phenomena of VR sickness, which includes headaches, dizziness and nausea, could have a negative impact on the user, thereby influencing future use of VR. There were no indications of VR sickness throughout this study, which allowed participants to experience the VEs without discomfort. The results show that the majority of this group claimed both and improved understanding of mindfulness and greater insight into mindfulness. This effect was produced with minimal guidance for the participant, which points to the impact of immersion on deeper understanding.



In exploring the question, “How can Immersive Media Technology support understanding of Mindfulness?” A wide range of technologies were implemented, including 360° image capturing and spatial audio capturing equipment, game development software, image manipulation software, surround sound speakers, smartphone VR apps, and a room-scale VR system, to create IM products of a style that was believed to be conducive to mindfulness practice. Once developed a call for participants was made which attracted people from a wide range of backgrounds. When the participants tested the IM products, they were able to contribute data related to their experiences. Biometric feedback data was also collected to learn more about the unconscious experience of the participants.

The objectives of the study were to observe the effect of immersion on participants while within a mindfulness VE. The VR technology was able to help the user focus their attention on the experience and reduced outside distractions. The VEs themselves were interesting to the users and were initially distracting as the user acclimated to the shift in perceived environment. In general, once the user was settled into the VE, biofeedback data had show an increased resistance to electrical conductivity in the skin, which is indicative of a feeling of calmness, or safety. In this state, the body is not preparing for action, and stress levels are reducing, thereby making this form of VE conducive to mindfulness practice.

Analysis of qualitative data was made to determine any changes in user attitudes and behavioural intentions. In collecting feedback from the participants, positive shifts in attitudes were found by most participants, in particular, those with little to no experience with the mindfulness or VR. General feedback on behaviour intention was mostly inconclusive with some positive results. Participants are likely to accept this type of experience as part of a prescribed programme, but were not inclined to seek out the experience for themselves. Showing the participants the biofeedback data before they completed the final form could have influenced the results differently, by informing them of the effect that the VE had on their bodies.



While the study did make progress in a field which lacks research, it was not without limitations. The creation of the IM products was limited in their development by time and manpower.  The execution of testing was limited by sample size and demographics, with some groups that were under-represented, such as those age 18 – 25, and strongly conservative people. A larger sample size with more varied backgrounds and evenly distributed range of subjects would give the data greater resolution and perhaps greater insight from different groups of people.


Limitations of the sample population

As a single testing session, feedback was only collected from the initial experience of the IM products. Longer trials may produce different results, as these trials were only five minutes in length. Feedback received after a sustained observation over multiple trials would simulate regular engagement and may give different insights, shifts in attitude and behaviour intent. Having a wider range of participants with differing levels of experience with mindfulness practice could have been beneficial as well. More participants with greater experience of mindfulness practice could articulate more nuanced insights.  To the same degree, more participants with greater experience with VR technology may have been able to give greater insight into the design of the IM experiences for future development.


Limitations of the implemented Technology

Mindfulness, due to its subjective nature, historically, has been a difficult field of study to objectively observe. The mindfulness domain rests within the psychological sciences and while these VEs address facets to the field that relate to sensory perception, the advent of biofeedback technology has given researchers access to facets of psychophysical phenomena. The use of EEG technology was considered, but due to the discomfort experienced by the hardware, it was decided that the EEG headset would not be conducive to observing the calming effects of the VEs.


Fig. 39. EEG Headset Electrode Imprints

This type of immersive media and VR technology, when implemented responsibly, could be used to treat a wide range of physical and psychological conditions. Understanding these inner dimensions of the mindfulness experience could lead to more effective tools to encourage, support and train people in this practice.  


Future Directions

While screen capture software was able to record Room-Scale VR testing sessions, testing with Mobile VR was complicated by the process of setting up the screen capturing software for each test, storage space on the device, and synchronisation of the mobile screen capture with the PC screen capture of the GSR output. Therefore, that information was not usable for this study. In future studies, it would be worthwhile to have the skill, expertise and equipment to capture the mobile screen and synchronise it to the GSR readings.


Fig. 40. Room-Scale VR view next to GSR Readings


Although the GSR readings provided vital details into the participants’ experience, that data would have been more valuable if accompanied by baseline readings. Baseline readings would have been useful for comparing the participants’ test GSR readings to a rested, neutral state and/or to a highly stimulated state using variable emotional content. Baseline readings would also allow for the identification of any technical difficulties related to the application of the GSR device such as poor skin contact. Future studies should include one if not both baseline formats.

Data collection focussed on the user’s experience and biofeedback, which both stem from the internal dimension of experience. Another area of observation that was not explored was the external behaviour of the participants. To record this type of data, the Moss Attention Rating Scale (MARS) could be implemented. MARS was developed to reliably quantify and measure behaviour related to attention. It would be appropriate because immersion within VR allows the participants to act without the feeling of being observed. This method of data collection uses a Linkert Scale to assess restlessness/distractibility, initiation into the experience, and sustained/consistent attention, using a mean score to rate the observed behaviour.

While the EEG equipment that was on hand was not suitable for this study, there are other wearable biofeedback devices that could be used that are comfortable and ignorable by the participant. For example, the Muse headband ( is a comfortable EEG device that would fit around a VR headset without discomfort. It measures five frequency ranges of brain signals, and if used in conjunction with a cardio/respiratory wearable monitoring device, and a GSR sensor, the range of biometric data that could be collected would be considerably vast and in-depth.

The introduction of guidance within the VR experience could also bear out significant data. The participant could be directed to simply focus on deep breathing while drawing attention inward to different locations within the body. This study required the participants to sit for the duration of the tests, but with Room-Scale VR, mindfulness practice could be explored in the form of slow, walking meditation as well. The mental and physical activity during a walking meditation could provide new information on the experience of mindfulness.

Overall, this first cycle of experimentation has produced results that are satisfactory to justify another iteration of development. The introduction of tools and techniques that refine existing research methods would be an improvement on the existing model. Incorporating new methods and resources to collect data from unexplored areas would make the results more robust, contributing further to this field of study.




These preliminary trials have successfully demonstrated the validity of the study. Although methods of execution could have been conducted more effectively to mitigate some of the limitations encountered in the study, two VR experiences were developed for the purpose of mindfulness practice. The VEs had demonstrated the ability to produce calming effects within the participants across both platforms. The VEs also helped them to gain an understanding of mindfulness through the simple activity of spending time in a Zen garden.

Participants found the hardware easy to use and gained insight into how the technology could be used for therapeutic purposes. The further application of these VEs could reveal new methods of mindfulness practice for purposes such as emotional regulation, self-awareness, and stress management. Products of this nature could be implemented in schools or workplaces to reduce anxiety and depression, improve introspectiveness and self-esteem or simply for general maintenance of well-being.