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Journal Article

Mere presence is not enough: Responsive support in a virtual world


McCall,  Cade
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kane, H. S., McCall, C., Collins, N. L., & Blascovich, J. (2012). Mere presence is not enough: Responsive support in a virtual world. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 37-44. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.07.001.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-14FA-1
When individuals are faced with novel or threatening situations, the presence of a trusted companion should reduce anxiety and promote feelings of security. Attachment theory assumes, however, that mere presence is not sufficient for establishing security; an attachment figure must also be attentive and emotionally responsive. To test this idea, participants came to the lab with their romantic partner and completed a threatening cliff-walking task in a digital immersive virtual environment. The presence and nonverbal support behavior (attentive vs. inattentive) of their partner was experimentally manipulated. Results indicated that participants in the attentive-partner condition experienced the task as less stressful than those who were alone; they also reported feeling more secure during the task and were less vigilant of their partner's behavior compared to those in the inattentive-partner condition. Those in the inattentive-partner condition felt less cared for and kept greater physical distance from their partner on a subsequent task. These findings suggest that human beings are predisposed to monitor their social environment for signs of responsiveness, and that perceived responsiveness, not mere presence, is the key modulator of emotional security.