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Recreational Cycling in Virtual Reality More Satisfying Than Real Life, Study Finds

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A recent study published in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation has found that recreational cycling in an immersive virtual environment (IVR) provides greater satisfaction and a higher state of flow compared to real-life cycling (RL). The research, led by Jacek Polechoński and his colleagues, aimed to assess the level of satisfaction and flow experienced by healthy adults under different cycling conditions: real life, non-immersive virtual reality (nIVR), and immersive virtual reality (IVR).

The study addresses the growing interest in the use of virtual reality (VR) technology to enhance physical activity (PA). As the enjoyment and immersive experience of PA significantly influence future training commitment, it is essential to explore whether VR can offer a more attractive alternative to traditional physical activities. The primary objective of the research was to evaluate and compare the levels of satisfaction and flow among participants while cycling in real life, non-immersive virtual reality, and immersive virtual reality environments.

The study involved forty students, comprising 20 women (average age 22.35) and 20 men (average age 22.95). Participants cycled in three different conditions: real life, non-immersive VR, and immersive VR. The Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale (PACES) was used to measure the enjoyment of cycling, and the Flow State Scale (FSS) was used to assess the flow state. The reliability of these questionnaires was also validated.

The results indicated significant differences in satisfaction and flow across the three cycling conditions. Participants reported the highest levels of satisfaction and flow during immersive VR cycling, followed by real-life cycling, with non-immersive VR cycling rated the lowest.

Specifically, the study found that immersive VR cycling provided a higher level of satisfaction compared to real-life cycling, although the difference was not statistically significant. Participants experienced the highest state of flow during immersive VR cycling. This was more pronounced in men, who reported significantly higher flow levels in IVR compared to the other conditions. Women also reported higher flow in IVR, but the differences were significant only when compared to non-immersive VR.

The researchers noted that the immersive nature of IVR likely contributes to higher satisfaction and flow by providing a more engaging and distraction-free environment. In IVR, users are surrounded by a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment, which allows for complete sensory immersion and enhances the overall experience. This contrasts with non-immersive VR, where the environment is displayed on a standard monitor, and real-life cycling, which includes various external distractions.

The study also highlighted the potential of IVR technology to become a significant supplement or even an alternative to traditional forms of physical activity. As VR technology continues to evolve and improve, its application in promoting physical activity could lead to higher user engagement and long-term exercise adherence. The positive experiences associated with IVR cycling could encourage more people to engage in regular physical activity, contributing to better overall health outcomes.

The findings of this study have several practical implications. For instance, VR developers and creators of active video games (AVGs) can use these insights to design more engaging and satisfying exercise experiences. Health promoters and physical activity planners can also consider incorporating IVR-based programs to attract and retain individuals in regular physical activity routines. Moreover, the study’s results suggest that IVR technology could be particularly beneficial for individuals who may have limited access to outdoor cycling or who seek a more controlled and immersive exercise environment.

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