This story is from the category Embodiment
Date posted: 15/01/2015
Often enough it is human nature to conform. This tendency makes us follow the lead of computers, even if the machines give us the wrong advice. This is the finding of a study in Springer’s journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review that investigates how people make judgment calls after playing role-playing video games. The research was led by Ulrich Weger of the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany.
Physical encounters and non computer-mediated face-to-face contact with other people are on the decline in a world that is becoming increasingly computerized. Many routine tasks are delegated to virtual characters. People spend hours role-playing through video gaming, non-gaming simulations and virtual environments by taking on the persona of a virtual character or avatar.
Such virtual environments can even lead people to acquire and practice real-life skills and new viewpoints. Weger and his fellow researchers therefore explored how role-playing video gaming influences social behavior and decision-making. Participants in their study first played an immersive game for seven minutes as an avatar. Afterwards, they completed a job selection task in which they had the option of overriding incorrect choices made by a computer.
It was found that role-playing as the avatar in an immersive video game, compared to merely watching others play, makes people identify with the world presented via the computer, and the avatars driven by the computer itself. They do so to such an extent that they actually start to conform to its decisions and follow its judgment – sometimes even if it is downright wrong. This shows that people conform, even when opinions are voiced by nonhuman agents. This is especially prevalent in ambiguous cases.
The reason for such behavior might be found in people’s tendency to strive for accuracy. It leads to so-called information conformity, wherein people lose faith in their own skills and competence. They align themselves with others who are deemed to make accurate judgement calls on a matter – even if in the current case they make less accurate judgments.
The researchers believe there is a need to systematically reflect on what is transpiring in virtual environments of all stripes and on the consequences of what happens when people enter the artificiality of a virtual world. This is especially important in light of the fact that video gaming is becoming more widespread.
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