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Winning Virtual Friends and Influencing Virtual People - Guide to Social Influence Virtual reality presents challenges to people who create the simulations as well as people who spend time using them

By Chirag Prajapati

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As people spend an expanding segment of their time in virtual reality, analysts, sociologists, anthropologists and other scientists are afforded an amazing chance to consider social relationships and its effect on social interaction. Such data is being used in order to get a better handle on ourselves in the realm of virtual reality. This information is being utilized to advance our understanding in the domain of virtual reality. As gregarious social animals, people often find themselves distanced from everyone else for expanded periods, regardless of whether by a touch of destiny or by the twist of fate or deliberate ostracism. Analysts, for the most part, mark such 'ostracism' as "social demise." However, research reveals that nearly everybody encounters or contributes to some level of ostracism almost every day and even an insignificant amount of alienation can be horrendously upsetting. As a characteristic outcome, they not only seek out other people but sometimes settle for imaginary friends too.

For example, in the well-known motion picture Cast away (2000), Chuck Noland being the sole survivor of a plane crash in a stranded island turns out to be so denied of human connection that he frames a fanciful companion in virtual reality terms, derived from a volleyball washed aground from the plane wreck. Utilizing his own blood, Noland paints a crude face on the ball and names it "Wilson," regarding it as a 'dear' companion and in the end taking it along wherever he goes. While only a motion picture, the focal subject of the film meaning complete human segregation was a noteworthy blockbuster and for sure depicted to the very best the key human requirement for social contact.

Research suggests that in order to avoid the pain of ostracism, people will do whatever they can to reconnect with others, even if, they need to use their imagination. Sadly, others vent their pain and rage psycho-pathologically, like the social outcasts who perpetrated the recent London Bridge massacre. With the increasing development of virtual reality, it becomes important to understand its impact on social influence.

Interconnection between Virtual Reality, Psychology and Social Influence

Social psychology has long been defined as "the study of how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, implied, or imagined presence of others." This definition provided by the legendary Gordon Allport in 1897 somehow perceived before time the remarkable impact of concepts like 'virtual reality' or 'avatars' and his definition, therefore, provides a fitting start to study the impact of virtual reality on psychology and social influence. The term social influence refers to the general types of effects that people have on each other. Social influence may take many forms, ranging from the way people keep their distance from one another while standing in a group to the way they copy and mimic one another's behavior. Social influence can result from words, intonation, or gestures and facial expressions. It can occur via sight, sound, touch, or even smell. A common view of biologists and psychologists is that humans are driven to interact with others by evolutionary imperatives and therefore, the physical absence of others does not appear to be very important. Rather, it is the lack of social contact or communication with others that is important.

Factors Affecting Social Influence within Virtual Reality-

Based on research conducted by various psychological experts, the five major factors that govern our social behavior in virtual reality are as follows-

1. Human Ability to Gauge Sentience of Others

People have an inclination to analyze, or make attributions about, other individuals' psychological states, such as beliefs, intentions, demeanors, motivations, knowledge and identity. These conclusions embody "theory of mind" and set the stage for how social connections play out. In the physical world, verifying sentience is often quite straightforward. However, virtual reality presents a different challenge, because people are not physically face-to-face with one another while they interact. When people see an approaching human-looking form or hear a human-like voice, they typically assume these "human forms" are sentient and capable of normal human activities. That is, they assume these "forms" are human. Social psychologists call this process making an "attribution of sentience." People use many sources of information to make these assessments. What is most important in virtual reality is the belief that a person holds a human representation in a manner similar to physical interaction.

2. Non-verbal Expression

The utilization of gesture and nonverbal conduct is so natural in the creation of dialect that people can't work without it. In virtual reality, nonverbal conduct is especially significant. Nonverbal correspondence is to a great extent an element of its three-segment factors. These factors are (i) movement realism (postures, gestures, and outward appearances, for instance), (ii) anthropometric reality (recognizable quality of human body parts), and (iii) photographic authenticity (how much these portrayals resemble a real human). Nonetheless, it must be noticed that informative authenticity is extremely hard to accomplish, from a technical standpoint.

3. The Human Response System

If a person believes that a representation is really just an agent, and that agent surprises him by throwing a virtual punch, the person will exhibit a "startle" response of the same magnitude as when a punch is thrown by an avatar. This happens because startle responses are unconscious and, consequently, we don't stop to think that a virtual punch is harmless. On the other hand, if the response was more complex than a simple "startle," then agents might not be so successful at influence. These unconscious processes imply the importance of human responses to virtual events.

4. Self-Relevance

It is important that the degree of relevance of a virtual social interaction to the self, varies from person to person as a function of their past experiences, personality, and temperaments.

5. Context

People's behavior often depends on where they are. For instance, your response to a question might change with a variance in the context, i.e. the simple question 'how are you feeling?' may generate different responses at a birthday party and an obituary. Likewise, the type of communicative realism that contributes to social influence depends on the nature of the specific virtual setting. Many games, like Pac-Man and Ping Pong, became popular despite low levels of communicative realism. On the other hand, a context such as online dating brings a different set of norms and expectations. A caricature drawing likely will not suffice in a profile on shaadi.com, where people want high photorealism in this context.

Virtual reality presents challenges to people who create the simulations as well as people who spend time using them. The solution to those challenges requires basic knowledge about how people socially interact with one another. In fact, one of the reasons Pixar is so successful with their virtual characters, for example, Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, is that they take great care in considering the importance of social influence in virtual reality. The five-pronged approach to social interaction in virtual reality as given above is important to study the human behavior in this area years to come.

Chirag Prajapati

Co-founder, Digikonn

Chirag is a Co-Founder of Digikonn, a digital marketing company rendering their services in the areas of branding, contents strategic planning, digital marketing and conversation rate optimisation. Chirag, with an experience of 7+ year in the IT industry as senior digital marketer, has rendered his services to various industry verticals as a digital marketing consultant and thought provoking articles on various channels are there to his credit.
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