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mercoledì 25 luglio 2007

Studying Behavior in a Virtual World

Get a (Second) Life
Studying Behavior in a Virtual World

By Jillian Sherwin, June 2007
Volume 20, Number 6

psychologicalscience.org

... Because the interaction in Second Life appears to closely parallel real-life (or would that be First Life?) human interaction, it is an ideal MMORG for psychological scientists. Researchers are discovering ways to use Second Life to study human interaction on an entirely new level. Nick Yee, a graduate student in the Department of Communications at Stanford University, has been involved with virtual research since he was an undergraduate psychology major. As a junior, he served as the lab technician for two seniors who were doing a project on Everquest, another MMORG. When he arrived at Stanford, he began doing his own research on avatar interaction in Second Life.

The basic question is the degree to which avatars are useful proxies for humans. “Some of the social norms that govern social interaction can transfer into the virtual world,” says Yee. Yee hypothesizes that people will conform to stereotypes of their digital bodies, in terms of gender, size, and attractiveness. Dubbing this the Proteus Effect, Yee studied the degree to which avatar appearance influences virtual behavior. To test this, Yee created avatars of varying degrees of attractiveness for subjects in the lab, and then allowed them to interact in Second Life. He discovered several interesting trends. “Attractive avatars are friendlier, and more revealing about themselves,” he said. “And taller avatars bargain more aggressively than shorter avatars.”

Peter Yellowlees, professor of psychiatry and director of academic information systems at the University of California, Davis, uses Second Life to simulate schizophrenic hallucinations. Although he began the project in a virtual 3-D cave, Yellowlees, an international expert on telemedicine and long distance health care, switched to Second Life because he wanted to make it more accessible to users and Second Life was “the best around.”

Yellowlees interviewed three schizophrenic patients and recorded information about their specific hallucinations. With the help of actors, artists, and computer programmers, and with continued feedback from patients, Yellowlees reconstructed the hallucinations in Second Life. “Mind Games in Second Life,” a YouTube video of one of 30 modeled hallucinations, illustrates Yellowlees’ work.



He found that although the hallucinations were quite variable, the hallucinogenic voices and imagery were typically “constant and harassing,” something that is much easier to capture in Second Life’s 3-D world than in more traditional written or verbal descriptions. Yellowlees developed the hallucination models to be used as teaching aids to help educators, the general public, and families develop a better understanding of patients’ experiences. ..

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