27 December 2006

Virtually Not Shocking at All

Now, why is it that I am not surprised by this result of a virtual recreation of the famous Milgram experiment?

The main conclusion of our study is that humans tend to respond realistically at subjective, physiological, and behavioural levels in interaction with virtual characters notwithstanding their cognitive certainty that they are not real. The specific conclusion of this study is that within the context of the particular experimental conditions described participants became stressed as a result of giving ‘electric shocks’ to the virtual Learner. It could even be said that many showed care for the well-being of the virtual Learner – demonstrated, for example, by their delay in administering the shocks after her failure to answer towards the end of the experiment. To some extent based on previous evidence this was to be expected. In fact, it has even been taken for granted that virtual humans can substitute for real humans when studying the responses of people to a social situation. For example, this was the strategy used in the fMRI study described in [19], where participants passively observed virtual characters gazing at the participants themselves or at other virtual characters. However, no previous experiments have studied what might happen when participants have to actively engage in behaviours that would have consequences for the virtual humans. The evidence of our experiments suggests that presence is maintained and that people do tend to respond to the situation as if it were real.

And people still dismiss Second Life and its ilk as just as "game"....

(Parenthetically, great to see this published on the new PLoS ONE.)

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