Presence (telepresence)

Presence (telepresence)

= Presence =

Presence is a theoretical concept describing the effect that people experience when they interact with a computer-mediated or computer-generated environment (Sheridan, 1994). Lombard and Ditton (1997) described presence as “an illusion that a mediated experience is not mediated” (Abstract). They explained that the conceptualization of presence borrows from multiple fields including communication, computer science, psychology, science, engineering, philosophy, and the arts. And a variety of computer applications and Web-based entertainment depend on the phenomenon to give people the sense of, as Sheridan called it, “being there” (p. 1).

Evolution of presence as a concept

The word “presence” is derived from the term “telepresence,” which was coined by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Marvin Minsky in 1980 (Steuer, 1993). His research explained telepresence as the manipulation of objects in the real world through remote access technology (Minsky, 1980). For example, a surgeon may use a computer to control robotic arms to perform minute procedures on a patient in another room. Or a NASA technician may use a computer to control a rover to collect rock samples on Mars. In either case, the operator is granted access to real, though remote, places via televisual tools.

As technologies have progressed, particularly with the advent of the Internet, the need for a new broader term arose. Sheridan (1992) extrapolated Minsky’s original definition. Using the shorter “presence,” Sheridan explained that the term refers to effect felt when controlling real world objects remotely as well as the effect people feel when they interact with and immerse themselves in virtual reality or virtual environments. This side of presence gained its first pop culture reference in 1984 with William Gibson’s pre-World Wide Web science fiction novel Neuromancer, which tells the story of a cyberpunk cowboy of sorts who accesses a virtual world to hack into organizations. In essence, presence to Sheridan represents two-sides of the same coin. It is the effect felt from engaging in either telepresence or virtual presence.

Lombard and Ditton (1997) went a step further and enumerated six conceptualizations of presence. First, they wrote, presence can be sense of social richness, the feeling one gets from social interaction. Second, presence can be a sense of realism, such as computer-generated environments looking, feeling, or otherwise seeming real. Third, presence can be a sense of transportation. This is a more complex concept than the traditional feeling of one being there. Transportation also includes users feeling as though something is “here” with them or feeling as though they are sharing common space with another person together. The fourth concept is that presence can be a sense of immersion, either through the senses or through the mind. Fifth, presence can provide users with the sense they are social actors within the medium. No longer passive viewers, users, via presence, are given a sense of interactivity and control. The sixth and final concept is that presence can be a sense of the medium as a social actor.

Two studies illustrate this idea of the medium as a social actor. Bracken and Lombard (2004) suggested that people, especially children, interact with computers socially. The researchers found, via their study, that children who received positive encouragement from a computer were more confident in their ability, were more motivated, recalled more of a story and recognized more features of a story than those children who received only neutral comments from their computer. Nan, Anghelcev, Myers, Sar, and Faber (2006) found that the inclusion of anthropomorphic agents that relied on artificial intelligence on a Web site had positive effect on people’s attitudes toward the site. The research of Bracken and Lombard and Nan et al. also speak to the concept of presence as transportation. The transportation in this case refers to the computer-generated identity. Users, through their interaction, have a sense that these fabricated personalities are really “there.”

Communication has been a central pillar of presence since the term’s conception. And the Internet, primarily a communicative medium, has depended on virtual presence since its conception. Rheingold (1993) and Turkle (1995) offered MUDs as early examples of how communication developed a sense of presence on the Web prior to the graphics-heavy existence it has developed today. “MUD stands for Multi-User Dungeons – imaginary worlds in computer databases where people use words and programming languages to improvise melodramas, build worlds and all the objects in them, solve puzzles, invent amusements and tools, compete for prestige and power, gain wisdom, seek revenge, indulge greed and lust and violent impulses” (Rheingold, 1993, p. 145).While Rheingold focused on the environmental sense of presence that communication provided, Turkle focused on the individual sense of presence that communication provided.“MUDs are a new kind of virtual parlor game and a new form of community. In addition, text-based MUDs are a new form of collaboratively written literature. MUD players are MUD authors, the creators as well as consumers of media content. In this, participating in a MUD has much in common with script writing, performance art, street theater, improvisational theater – or even commedia dell’arte” (pp. 11-12).

Turkle explained that much of the presence conveyed in these early text-based worlds depended on descriptions by the users. No one could see one user hug or slap another. But users simply described what happened and let the mind do the rest. Turkle also pointed out, however, that the people who populate virtual worlds could be fabricated identities of real people or could be simply computer-generated bots. Online, you are whoever you say you are. Further blurring the lines, Weimann (2000) wrote that media scholars have found when virtual experiences are very similar to real-life experiences, people can confuse their own memories and have trouble remembering if those experiences were mediated or not.

Presence research

Presence has fruitful phenomenon for research and has even led to an academic journal devoted solely to its study. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments was founded in 1992 and covers the topic from a wide spectrum of perspectives (MIT Press Journals, n.d.). And Presence-Connect (2002) is an online companion to the offline journal. Other academic journals, such as the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, also frequently publish articles on presence. Presence research has also led to a number of associations and project groups.


The International Society for Presence Research (2008) was founded in 2002. The organization originally began to coordinate the annual International Presence Workshops. However, now the group exists to support academic research into presence. (2006) was an online clearinghouse of information and resources on presence and the study of presence. It was part of the OmniPres project and was the European Community's first Presence Research Proactive Initiative (International Society for Presence Research, 2008). The site provided news about the study of presence and provided a calendar of upcoming academic conferences that include presence as a theme. However, the site has not been updated in some time.


Peach (n.d.) is a three year FP6 Coordination Action (CA) on Presence, which started in May 2006. Its objective is to stimulate structure and support the Presence research community, with special attention to the challenges associated to the interdisciplinary character of the field, and to produce visions and roadmaps to support the construction of the Presence European Research Area (ERA). Secondly, because Presence research is set to produce disruptive technologies which can cause profound social impact and raise serious ethical issues, Peach will analyze the relation of Presence technologies with society (trends, ethics, legal aspects), foster the contact of researchers with the market and enhance the Public Understanding of Presence research and technology. Finally Peach will perform a Market analysis to define market trends and prospect and to identify future business opportunities for technologies, services, and applications in the field of Presence research.

The CA is financially supported by the European commission under the Future Emerging Technologies (FET) – Information Society Technology (IST) programme nursery of novel and emerging scientific ideas. Its main objective is to stimulate structure and support the Presence research community (academic & industry), with special attention to the challenges associated with the interdisciplinary nature of the field, and to produce visions and roadmaps to support the construction of the Presence ERA.


Keho (n.d.) is the bi-annual e-zine of the Peach project.

Keho (n.d.) aims to stimulate debate and discussion about Presence research, its future direction and its impact on society. It is available in pdf format to download for free from the Peach project’s website. The e-zine is called Keho because this refers to the phenomenology of mind and body in the Finnish language.


Bracken, C., and Lombard, M. (2004). Social presence and children: Praise, intrinsic motivation, and learning with computers. Journal of Communication. 54, 22-37.

International Society for Presence Research. (2008). About ISPR. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from

Keho. (n.d.) Keho: the place for Presence research. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from

Lombard and Ditton (1997) At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 3(2).

Minsky, M. (1980). Telepresence. Omni, June, 45–51.MIT Press Journals. (n.d.). Presence. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from

Nan, X., Anghelcev, G., Myers, J. R., Sar, S., & Faber, R. J. (2006). What if a website can talk? Exploring the persuasive effects of web-based anthropomorphic agents. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 83(3), 615-631.

Peach. (n.d.) Peach: Presence research in action. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from (2006). Welcome. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from

Rheingold, H. (1993). The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Sheridan, T. B. (1992). Musings on telepresence and virtual presence. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 1, 120–126.

Sheridan, T. B. (1994). Further musings on the psychophysics of presence. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 5, 241-246.

Steuer, J. Defining virtual reality: Dimensions determining telepresence. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the Internet. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Weimann, G. (2000). Communicating unreality: Modern media and the reconstruction of reality. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

ee also

*Virtual reality

Further reading

*Bob G. Witmer, Michael J. Singer (1998). "Measuring Presence in Virtual Environments: A Presence Questionnaire"
*Matthew Lombard, Theresa Ditton (1997) "At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence."
*G. Riva, J, Waterworth (2003). "Presence and the Self: a cognitive neuroscience approach."
*W. IJsselsteijn, G. Riva (2003). "Being There: The experience of presence in mediated environments."

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