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Journal Article

What Can Virtual Reality Teach Us About Prosocial Tendencies in Real and Virtual Environments?

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Gillath, O., McCall, C., Shaver, P. R., & Blascovich, J. (2008). What Can Virtual Reality Teach Us About Prosocial Tendencies in Real and Virtual Environments? Media Psychology, 11, 259-282. doi:10.1080/15213260801906489.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0012-165C-6
As virtual environments (VEs) become increasingly central to people's lives (Terry, 2002), understanding reactions to VEs may be as important as understanding behavior in the real world (Yee, Bailenson, Urbanek, Chang, & Merget, 2007). Immersive Virtual Environment Technology (IVET), which is now being used in psychological research (Blascovich et al., 2002), can provide greater experimental control, more precise measurement, ease of replication across participants, and high ecological validity, making it attractive for researchers. It also can create links between researchers who study basic social psychological processes and those who study new media. In two studies we examined people's reactions as they navigated through a virtual world and interacted with virtual people, some of whom needed help. Participants’ compassion and tendency to experience personal distress predicted emotional reactions (concern) and proxemic behavior (gaze orientation and degree of interpersonal distance) to a virtual person in need but not to a control person. The results support the use of IVET and proxemic variables to measure compassion unobtrusively and they encourage the use of IVET to advance our understanding of people's behavior in and reactions to virtual worlds and new media.