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object or the environment that he is observing is actually present, that he is “inside''
the virtual world and 2) the subject can interact with the “virtual world''.
This is done using sensor systems which help to update the view according to the
position of the subject in the virtual world, as also to handle objects present in the
virtual world.
In this context, this type of device is quite likely to enhance the state of knowledge
in the field of Behavioural Sciences mainly in the study of the “perception, cogni-
tion, action'' loop. Here, it is necessary to lay stress on the abilities of such a device,
not only to generate complex multi-modal sensory stimulations, but also to measure
the behaviour of a subject undergoing these stimulations and finally to modulate the
sensory stimulations in real time. We can thus penetrate the sensorimotor regulation
loop, and manipulate it to understand it better. This manipulation can, for example,
concern the nature of the sensory information, the means of action at the disposal
of the subject and the spatial and temporal aspects of the perception-action coupling.
In return, the Behavioural Sciences (and those studying Movement) can shed new
light on the “improperly formulated'' questions, like the role of sensory and percep-
tual immersion or even the “real time'' interaction in virtual worlds. We can thus
consider that eventually the concept of virtual reality may constitute a terrain of recip-
rocal enrichment and convergence between the fields of Life sciences and Information
Technology and Science. Finally, it is necessary to note that the development of this type
of device depends on contacts and collaboration with the industrial environment (high
speed data visualisation, simulation, presentation of existing products or those being
planned, among others), which somehow constitutes a ground for the validation of
virtual reality technologies.
4.2 CONTRIBUTION OF VIRTUAL REALITY
TO BEHAVIOURAL SCIENCES
4.2.1 Basic research
For a long time, researchers in the field of Behavioural Sciences have used experimental
devices through which they tried to control and use the sensory information and the
control conditions of the activity, possessed by the experimental subjects, in order to
better understand the sensory, motor and cognitive determinants of the working of the
human operator. From this point of view, virtual reality techniques for the researchers
are nothing but a development of the existing techniques (Loomis et al., 1999; Tarr &
Warren, 2002). These techniques are particularly used for the study of the visual (and
sensory) bases of the control of locomotion, and also for the study of spatial orientation
mechanisms. With these devices, it looks like we have crossed a technical and qualita-
tive level during the last decade. We are thus presently witnessing the convergence and
constant accelerated progress of numerous techniques of sensory stimulation (stereo-
scopic three-dimensional vision, spatialised sound, tactile stimulations, etc.) capturing
human movements (mechanical, optical, electromagnetic and videographic sensors)
and sensorimotor interactions in real time (mainly by the augmented power of the com-
puter systems and parallel programming of graphic machines) under the generic term
of virtual reality. From the point of view of the Behavioural Sciences (and particularly
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