Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Real-world Behavior And Biases Show Up In Virtual World

Date:
September 11, 2008
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Americans are spending increasing amounts of time hanging around virtual worlds in the forms of cartoon-like avatars that change appearances according to users' wills, fly through floating cities in the clouds and teleport instantly to glowing crystal canyons and starlit desert landscapes. Simply fun and games? A new study shows that avatars responded to social cues -- and revealed racial biases -- in the same ways that people do in the real world.

Americans are spending increasing amounts of time hanging around virtual worlds in the forms of cartoon-like avatars that change appearances according to users' wills, fly through floating cities in the clouds and teleport instantly to glowing crystal canyons and starlit desert landscapes.

Simply fun and games divorced from reality, right?

Not necessarily so, say two social psychologists from Northwestern University who conducted the first experimental field studies in the virtual world.

They found that avatars in these elaborate fantasylands responded to social cues to help one another -- and revealed racial biases – in the same ways that people do in the real world.

The study's co-investigators are Northwestern's Paul W. Eastwick, a doctoral student in psychology, and Wendi L. Gardner, associate professor of psychology and member of Northwestern's Center for Technology and Social Behavior.

In both of the classic social psychology experiments used for the study, one avatar tried to influence another to fulfill a request.

The way the door-in-the-face (DITF) experiment works: the experimenter (in this case an avatar) first makes an unreasonably large request to which the responder is expected to say no, followed by a more moderate request.

As expected, the avatars -- similar to people who participated in the same experiment in the real world -- were more likely to comply with the moderate request when it was preceded by the large request than when the moderate request was presented alone. They exhibited a psychological tendency to reciprocate the requester's "concession": the change from a relatively unreasonable request to a more moderate request.

The experiment's moderate request: "Would you teleport to Duda Beach with me and let me take a screenshot of you?" In the DITF condition, that request was preceded by a request of the avatar to have screenshots taken in 50 different locations -- requiring about two hours of teleporting and traveling.

In one of the most striking findings, the effect of the DITF technique was significantly reduced when the requesting avatar was dark-toned. The white avatars in the DITF experiment received about a 20 percent increase in compliance with the moderate request; the increase for the dark-toned avatars was 8 percent.

"For decades, research has shown that the outcome of that reciprocity-inducing technique is affected by how the requester is perceived, whether a person -- or in this case an avatar -- is deemed worthy of impressing," said Gardner.

The finding is consistent with studies in the real world as well as the few in the virtual world that clearly demonstrate that physical characteristics, such as race, gender and physical attractiveness, affect judgment of others.

The study was conducted in There.com, a relatively unstructured online virtual world that brands itself as an online getaway where users can hang out with friends and explore an immense and unusual landscape.

Even in the surreal environment, users, who were unaware that they were part of a psychological study, succumbed to very down-to-earth effects of social influence.

"You would think when you're wandering around this fantasyland, operating outside of the normal laws of time, space and gravity and meeting all types of strange characters, that you might behave differently," Eastwick said. "But people exhibited the same type of behavior -- and the same type of racial bias -- that they show in the real world all the time."

Numerous studies done in the real world show that people are more uncomfortable with minorities and are less likely to help them.

The study also employed a foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique to boost compliance to the moderate request to be teleported to Duda Beach to participate in a screenshot. Opposite of the door-in-the-face technique, an avatar was first asked to comply with a small request (Can I take a screenshot of you?) followed by the moderate request. The psychology behind this technique is that a person who does a small favor for a stranger is likely to see himself or herself as being helpful and be more likely to fulfill the following larger request. In this case, the skin tone of the requesting avatar didn't matter, because the elicited psychological effect is related to how a person views herself, and not others.

In at least one sense, worries may be inflated about virtual world users spending too many hours alone at their computers, cut off from reality.

"This study suggests that interactions among strangers within the virtual world are very similar to interactions between strangers in the real world," Eastwick said.

The study suggests that users in online virtual environments routinely extend their social selves to inhabit their online avatars.

"People are increasing the amount of social interaction that takes place online, whether through participation in virtual worlds or other online communities or even just social networks like Facebook or Twitter," Gardner said. "And all these environments present potentially fertile testing grounds for new psychological theories."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Eastwick et al. Is it a game? Evidence for social influence in the virtual world. Social Influence, 2008; 1 DOI: 10.1080/15534510802254087

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Real-world Behavior And Biases Show Up In Virtual World." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080909074104.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2008, September 11). Real-world Behavior And Biases Show Up In Virtual World. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080909074104.htm
Northwestern University. "Real-world Behavior And Biases Show Up In Virtual World." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080909074104.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Computers & Math News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Nintendo Changed Gaming World, but Its Future Uncertain: Upstone

Nintendo Changed Gaming World, but Its Future Uncertain: Upstone

AFP (Apr. 19, 2014) The Nintendo Game Boy celebrates its 25th anniversary Monday and game expert Stephen Upstone says the console can be credited with creating a trend towards handheld gaming devices. Duration: 01:21 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Did Nike Fire Most Of Its Nike FuelBand Team?

Why Did Nike Fire Most Of Its Nike FuelBand Team?

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) Nike fired most of its Digital Sport hardware team, the group behind Nike's FuelBand device. Could Apple or an overcrowded market be behind layoffs? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Nearly Two Weeks On, The Internet Copes With Heartbleed

Nearly Two Weeks On, The Internet Copes With Heartbleed

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) The Internet is taking important steps in patching the vulnerabilities Heartbleed highlighted, but those preventive measures carry their own costs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Facebook To Share Nearby Friends Data With Advertisers

Facebook To Share Nearby Friends Data With Advertisers

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) A Facebook spokesperson has confirmed the company will use GPS data from the new Nearby Friends feature for advertising sometime in the future. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins