An Interview with Mathis Göcht, VR researcher

Within HumaniVR and in its neighbourhood, several young scholars are currently developing and executing highly innovative and interesting research projects using VR apps and hardware. This blog has had the opportunity to interview some of them about their aims and goals, and their personal take on the impacts of VR. We begin with an interview of an ‘old acquaintance’ of HumaniVR, Mathis Göcht.

HumaniVR: Hi Mathis. You have just started to work on your thesis project. What’s its name?

Mathis Göcht: The title of my research project is “Communicative Action in Virtual Reality – Experiments in unusual Perceptual Spaces”.

HumaniVR: Can you describe it for us in a few sentences.

Mathis: The main part of my research will be the development of a VR environment in which specific aspects of the virtual world are manipulated in comparison to the perceptual space that we are used to in our usual environment. The test subjects, therefore, will not to be able to make use of the standard spatial reference systems deriving from their embodied presence in the real world. In the virtual environment, they will be challenged to solve a puzzle in teams of two, in which mutual communicative spatial coordination and the establishment of common ground will take a crucial part. The data will be recorded before being linguistically analyzed using transcripts of the teams’ spoken language.

HumaniVR: What would you like to find out with this experiment?

Mathis: My research interest is related to concepts in cognitive linguistics. I want to address the influence of the immediate environment and the egocentric perception of oneself in a specific environment, concerning the communication about space, for example the use of deictic language. Furthermore, I want to find out how people create a successful and potentially new communication system if they are embodied in different perceptual spaces, and how common ground can be created in these interactions.

HumaniVR: What has been your personal motivation behind this research project?

Mathis: My motivation derives from my general interest in emerging technologies such as VR. After gaining my first experience in VR-based research in my bachelor’s thesis, I continued to pursue this interest, working for HumaniVR.
Since I’m interested in the emergence of language systems and common ground, as well as the influence of bodily perception on linguistic reference systems, I’ve decided to turn this into a research project for my master’s thesis, taking advantage of the opportunities Virtual Reality environments provide.

HumaniVR: Which role does VR play as a medium and technology? Which characteristics of VR do you find particularly important in contrast to other technologies?

Mathis: In contrast to a common misconception, VR can not only be used as a simulation of the real world but extend certain aspects of physical reality. This enables researchers to manipulate features of the environment that are otherwise difficult or impossible to influence in regular lab conditions. By providing users with a sense of presence — the feeling of being physically embedded in the virtual world — VR extends the possibilities of other digitally mediated communication technologies, which can only be perceived through a screen and, thus, lack a sense of embodiment.

HumaniVR: Thank you, Mathis, for this interview.

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