Virtual Reality Simulations

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A Promising Approach: Virtual Environments to Parallel Social Interactions
The theory of radical behaviorism, theorized by B.F. Skinner, focuses on the idea that our behavior and thoughts (viewed as behaviors themselves) are all products of our environment. It is what we encounter that ultimately sets up our beliefs and views not only of the world we live in but also the people that live in it. However, because we can only experience actual real life situations, social psychologists often ponder imagined interactions and the affect it could have on human behavior, thoughts, and interactions. In recent years, researchers have obtained access to virtual environments, a digital world for participants to fully interact and engage in. Although
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The intricate design of traditional experiments and virtual reality simulations can similarly affect participant’s interactions. According to Dr. Brown (personal communication, September, 15, 2016), an associate professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, “you can learn people’s reactions to a scenario with a vignette, but its hard to know what they would actually do in those situations. Virtual reality simulations are more real, more aversive, which offers the chance that their responses might be more similar to real life”. Virtual environments not only expand beyond traditional surveys into more realistic designs, but they are also capable of creating “interaction contexts that, to date, have not been adapted to experimental methods” (Reis, 2002). However, a participant need’s to be able to not only be surrounded by the most realistic objects and humans, but also believe that such objects and humans are real. Social presence is the degree to which a participant believes the virtual human being to be representative of behaviors and characteristics of a real human in the physical world. A well designed virtual reality simulation must simultaneously achieve both social presence and behavioral realism. Blascovich et al. (2002b) approaches this concern with his threshold model of social influence. A higher amount of social presence and behavioral realism will result in higher effects of social influence, thus, it is more likely that the experimental results can be applied to real social scenarios. Furthermore, Groom et. al (2002) recognizes Blascovich’s approach and believes “the very artificiality of the virtual world allows the experiment to decouple what is inextricably confounded in the real world, improving the ability to draw causal inferences and thereby, enhancing internal validity”. In order to achieve artificial “social

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