Real vs. immersive-virtual emotional experience: Analysis of psycho-physiological patterns in a free exploration of an art museum

PLoS One. 2019 Oct 15;14(10):e0223881. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0223881. eCollection 2019.


Virtual reality is a powerful tool in human behaviour research. However, few studies compare its capacity to evoke the same emotional responses as in real scenarios. This study investigates psycho-physiological patterns evoked during the free exploration of an art museum and the museum virtualized through a 3D immersive virtual environment (IVE). An exploratory study involving 60 participants was performed, recording electroencephalographic and electrocardiographic signals using wearable devices. The real vs. virtual psychological comparison was performed using self-assessment emotional response tests, whereas the physiological comparison was performed through Support Vector Machine algorithms, endowed with an effective feature selection procedure for a set of state-of-the-art metrics quantifying cardiovascular and brain linear and nonlinear dynamics. We included an initial calibration phase, using standardized 2D and 360° emotional stimuli, to increase the accuracy of the model. The self-assessments of the physical and virtual museum support the use of IVEs in emotion research. The 2-class (high/low) system accuracy was 71.52% and 77.08% along the arousal and valence dimension, respectively, in the physical museum, and 75.00% and 71.08% in the virtual museum. The previously presented 360° stimuli contributed to increasing the accuracy in the virtual museum. Also, the real vs. virtual classifier accuracy was 95.27%, using only EEG mean phase coherency features, which demonstrates the high involvement of brain synchronization in emotional virtual reality processes. These findings provide an important contribution at a methodological level and to scientific knowledge, which will effectively guide future emotion elicitation and recognition systems using virtual reality.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Brain / physiology
  • Electrocardiography / instrumentation*
  • Electroencephalography / instrumentation*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Museums
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Support Vector Machine
  • Virtual Reality
  • Wearable Electronic Devices
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

This work was supported by Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad de España (URL:; Project TIN2013-45736-R and DPI2016-77396-R); Dirección General de Tráfico, Ministerio Del Interior de España (URL:; Project SPIP2017-02220); and the Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (URL: The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.