Second Lifers, you’re being tested!

UK researchers are studying the way people act in virtual worlds compared to the real world. They use software called "SL-bot" to examine the way people act inside a virtual world of Second Life and to investigate its inhabitants' psychology.

British scientists use the SL-bot that masquerades as an ill-mannered human user. It starts a conversation with real Second Lifers and deliberately invades their personal space to see how they will react. NewScientist.com describes how it all works: In one experiment, SL-bot was sent on a mission to find other avatars that were alone. As soon as it did, it greeted them by first name, waited two seconds then moved to the virtual equivalent of within 1.2 metres away. It then recorded the other avatar's reaction for 10 seconds afterwards, and sent the data to the researchers. Out of 28 avatars approached this way, 12 simply moved away and 20 also responded via text chat. On a previous mission, SL-bot observed pairs of normal avatars as they interacted. It found that users are, on average, six times more likely to shift position when someone comes to within 1.2 m. That backs up the idea that people also value their virtual personal space, say the researchers.

Nick Yee of Stanford University, California, has done similar investigations of personal space in Second Life. He believes however, that the ethics of experimenting in virtual worlds remain under negotiation. SL users would probably share this view.

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