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J Exp Psychol Appl. 2012 Sep;18(3):239-52. doi: 10.1037/a0028616. Epub 2012 May 28.

An embodiment effect in computer-based learning with animated pedagogical agents.

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  • 1Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA. mayer@psych.ucsbedu


How do social cues such as gesturing, facial expression, eye gaze, and human-like movement affect multimedia learning with onscreen agents? To help address this question, students were asked to twice view a 4-min narrated presentation on how solar cells work in which the screen showed an animated pedagogical agent standing to the left of 11 successive slides. Across three experiments, learners performed better on a transfer test when a human-voiced agent displayed human-like gestures, facial expression, eye gaze, and body movement than when the agent did not, yielding an embodiment effect. In Experiment 2 the embodiment effect was found when the agent spoke in a human voice but not in a machine voice. In Experiment 3, the embodiment effect was found both when students were told the onscreen agent was consistent with their choice of agent characteristics and when inconsistent. Students who viewed a highly embodied agent also rated the social attributes of the agent more positively than did students who viewed a nongesturing agent. The results are explained by social agency theory, in which social cues in a multimedia message prime a feeling of social partnership in the learner, which leads to deeper cognitive processing during learning, and results in a more meaningful learning outcome as reflected in transfer test performance.

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