Researchers Find Racial Bias In Virtual Worlds

Virtual Worlds such as Second Life have been used as platforms for racial protesters to speak their minds, however it was surprising to me that researchers have apparently uncovered racism within virtual worlds themselves.

According to a study that was conducted in There.com, virtual world avatars respond to social cues in the same ways that people do in the real world.

Users, who were unaware that they were part of a psychological study, were approached by a researcher’s avatar for either a ‘foot-in-the-door’ (FITD) or ‘door-in-the-face’ (DITF) experiment.

The FITD technique works by first asking a participant to comply with a small request -– which, in this experiment, was “Can I take a screenshot of you?” — followed by a moderate request: “Would you teleport to Duda Beach with me and let me take a screenshot of you?”

Participants who fulfilled the small request are expected to be likely to see himself or herself as being helpful, and thus be more likely to fulfil the subsequent larger request.

The DITF technique work works in an opposite way: the experimenter first makes an unreasonably large request to which the responder is expected to say no, followed by a more moderate request.

In the DITF condition, that large request was to have screenshots taken in 50 different locations, which would have required about two hours of teleporting and travelling.

As the researchers expected, DITF participants were found to be more likely to comply with the moderate request when it was preceded by the large request, than when the moderate request was presented alone.

But while results of the FITD experiment revealed no racial bias, the effect of the DITF technique was significantly reduced when the experimenter took the form of a dark-skinned avatar – this amounted to roughly 20% for light skinned avatars and 8% for dark skinned avatars to comply with the moderate request.

All-in-all I shouldn’t be as shocked as I was when I read the article on the report. Avatars may be synthetic representations of who we want to be, but behind every avatar are the imperfections of human behavior.

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