The mission of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab is to understand the dynamics and implications of interactions among people in immersive virtual reality simulations (VR), and other forms of human digital representations in media, communication systems, and games. Researchers in the lab are most concerned with understanding the social interaction that occurs within the confines of VR, and the majority of our work is centered on using empirical, behavioral science methodologies to explore people as they interact in these digital worlds.
The talk (video, audio at link) was really great:
Unlike telephone conversations and videoconferences, avatars – representations of people in virtual environments – have the ability to control their physical appearance and behavioral actions in the eyes of their conversational partners, strategically enhancing or hiding features and nonverbal signals in real-time. Jeremy Bailenson – founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab – explores the manners in which avatars change the nature of remote communication, and how these transformations can impact the ability to influence others in social and professional contexts.
A lot has been written about cyberspace law and policy, but not a lot of people (to my knowledge, at least) have done the heavy-lifting on exploring how people actually behave in these environments. Even the HCI literature, or that to which I have been exposed, tends to focus on usability, rather than framing effects and so forth.
I was very much impressed by the talk Bailenson gave, and by the work his lab is doing. While I’m not sold on the merits of all of it – I have a deep and ineradicable bias against anything that takes Second Life seriously – the point is that this is the sort of research that needs to be pursued if we are to understand how digital environments affected human communications and interaction.
Read their papers. Or, at least, check out the talk. It’s good stuff.