Research: Asch Conformity Effect within a Virtual Environment
Mentor: Keith Page
The conformity effect is a psychological phenomenon involving a type of social influence that may include a change in belief or behavior in order to fit in with a group. Virtual reality is used in fields of cognitive sciences to accurately study the participant’s behavior within a virtual environment. As technology becomes more advanced, it is imperative that we recognize and understand the limitations and uses of virtual reality within the psychological field. This study seeks to explore the extent to which social pressure and conformity may be expressed in a virtual environment. Utilizing Unity and VRChat, a virtual environment was created where a fully immersed participant was placed in a group and asked to complete a series of tasks. The main experiment consisted of 20 participants, ranging from ages 13-20, who were asked to answer a simple line test, similar to that of the 1950’s Asch Conformity Experiment. Participants had to match a given line, to one of three shown on a graph, whilst facing group influence. The participants were gathered through multiplayer servers and were asked to utilize a virtual reality headset throughout the experiment. There were a total of 24 trials, 12 group trials, along with 12 individual trials. After completing the necessary trials, the participants answered a verbal questionnaire before analyzing the results. It was found that 24% of participants gave an incorrect answer at least once during the group trials, but only 1 participant (or 5%) answered incorrectly during the individual trials. Additionally, there was a direct correlation found between the average response time and the rate of incorrect responses; the response times were significantly higher throughout the group trials. Participants responded faster and much more confidently in the independent trials than within the group. The results of this study indicate that people can be socially affected by conformity to an extent, within a virtual environment. While not conclusive, these results are significant enough to call for further research within this field to further understand the connection between technology and human behavior.
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