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Cult Brain. 2016;4(2):134-146. Epub 2016 Sep 22.

Examining ecological validity in social interaction: problems of visual fidelity, gaze, and social potential.

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School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Earley Gate, Whiteknights Road, Reading, RG6 6AL UK.
School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.


Social interaction is an essential part of the human experience, and much work has been done to study it. However, several common approaches to examining social interactions in psychological research may inadvertently either unnaturally constrain the observed behaviour by causing it to deviate from naturalistic performance, or introduce unwanted sources of variance. In particular, these sources are the differences between naturalistic and experimental behaviour that occur from changes in visual fidelity (quality of the observed stimuli), gaze (whether it is controlled for in the stimuli), and social potential (potential for the stimuli to provide actual interaction). We expand on these possible sources of extraneous variance and why they may be important. We review the ways in which experimenters have developed novel designs to remove these sources of extraneous variance. New experimental designs using a 'two-person' approach are argued to be one of the most effective ways to develop more ecologically valid measures of social interaction, and we suggest that future work on social interaction should use these designs wherever possible.


Ecological validity; Gaze; Social interaction; Social potential; Two-person; Visual fidelity

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