Psychological research in virtual worlds
Monday, June 11, 2007
By Nick Yee of Stanford University
Virtual worlds (such as World of Warcraft and Second Life) have received a great deal of media and academic attention recently. While these virtual communities provide us with a new and fascinating area of study, it is also important to understand how these virtual environments provide us with new research tools.
Several lines of research in this area have emphasized the methodological possibilities of this emerging technology. One research paradigm known as Transformed Social Interaction purposefully breaks and alters the rules of social interaction in order to gain insight into communication and interaction processes. In the physical world, two people interacting in the same space necessarily share the same reality. On the other hand, in a virtual environment where users view the shared environment from their own computer terminals or virtual reality goggles, their realities need not be congruent. Thus, for example, I may perceive my avatar (a digital representation of myself) to be short while you perceive my avatar to be tall. These non-congruent reality scenarios open up a range of research questions in stereotype threat, behavioral confirmation, and self-perception theory among other psychological theories.