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Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2010 Dec;13(6):711-4. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2009.0310. Epub 2010 May 11.

Real behavior in virtual environments: psychology experiments in a simple virtual-reality paradigm using video games.

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  • 1School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom.


The purpose of this research was to illustrate the broad usefulness of simple video-game-based virtual environments (VEs) for psychological research on real-world behavior. To this end, this research explored several high-level social phenomena in a simple, inexpensive computer-game environment: the reduced likelihood of helping under time pressure and the bystander effect, which is reduced helping in the presence of bystanders. In the first experiment, participants had to find the exit in a virtual labyrinth under either high or low time pressure. They encountered rooms with and without virtual bystanders, and in each room, a virtual person requested assistance. Participants helped significantly less frequently under time pressure but the presence/absence of a small number of bystanders did not significantly moderate helping. The second experiment increased the number of virtual bystanders, and participants were instructed to imagine that these were real people. Participants helped significantly less in rooms with large numbers of bystanders compared to rooms with no bystanders, thus demonstrating a bystander effect. These results indicate that even sophisticated high-level social behaviors can be observed and experimentally manipulated in simple VEs, thus implying the broad usefulness of this paradigm in psychological research as a good compromise between experimental control and ecological validity.

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