Presence in Multimodal Interfaces

Eva-Lotta Sallnäs

IPLab, NADA, KTH, 10044 Stockholm



Different modalities affect the process of communication and collaboration between people in electronic meetings. Some previous results suggest that interfaces, where different combinations of media like text, sound, video, pictures and even tactile feedback is used, intermediate more or less rich information. These different media support more or less modalities like vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The richness intermediated by the media affects the feeling of presence in it. Short et al. (1976) regard social presence as a single dimension that represent a cognitive synthesis of several factors such as capacity to transmit information about facial expression, direction of looking, posture and nonverbal cues as they are perceived by the individual to be present in the medium. These factors affect the level of presence that is the extent to which a medium is perceived as sociable, warm, sensitive, personal or intimate when it is used to interact with other people. Social presence varies between different media, it affects the nature of the interaction and it interacts with the purpose of the interaction to influence the medium chosen by the individual who wishes to communicate. Witmer & Singer (1998) define presence as the subjective experience of being in one place or environment, even when one is physically situated in another. Haptic communication could enhance perceived presence in groups working together mediated by multimedia systems (Ho, C. et al., 1998). In this study the effect of haptical feedback on perceived presence, autonomic arousal responses and task accomplishment is tested.

The degree of richness is important for how efficiently people collaborate at a distance in electronic meetings. Generally e-mail, where the text medium is used, is regarded as being less rich in information. Videoconference where the media video and audio are used is generally regarded as being richer in information.

The feeling of presence in an electronic meeting is important in order for people to build relations and trust. This aspect is relevant for people's ability to solve complex problems together. This applies to both logically and emotionally complex problems.

An important question is how interfaces with different media best support different activities in electronic meetings, due to the specific qualities of each media regarding what modality it supports. Interfaces with media that intermediate less rich information might not be sufficient for electronic meetings where activities involving complex problem solving are performed. But the same interface might be very efficient for simple collaborative tasks.

Research questions

1. What qualities do different media like audio, video, text and tactile have regarding the subjective experience of virtual presence and social presence?

3. Do groups of people perform better in solving complex tasks in interfaces that transmit a high degree of perceived presence?

Ongoing research

Research is performed on virtual environments in applications for electronic meetings. Comparative studies of media are performed regarding how these support human modalities like vision, hearing and touch. People's subjective feeling of virtual and social presence in different media is investigated. The possible correlation between perceived feeling of presence and peoples performance in solving complex problems in distributed electronic meetings will be studied. This kind of knowledge is crucial for the effective use and development of technology for communication and collaboration.


Short, J. Williams, E., and Christie, B. (1976). The social psychology of telecommunications. London: Wiley.

Witmer, B. G., Singer, M. J., (1998) Measuring Presence in Virtual Environments: A Presence Questionnaire. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 7(3), 225-240.

Ho, C., Basdogan, C., Slater, M., Durlach, N., Srinivasan, M. A, (1998). An experiment on the influence of haptic communication on the sense of being together. BT Presence Workshop BT Labs.