The impact of mimicry in virtual reality

May 11, 2011

Can non human avatars influence human avatars through mimicry in a virtual reality setting?

Mimicry is known by many developmental psychologists as an integral part to the development of communication skills. Young infants often engage in mimicry with their parents, trying to copy the same movements that they do. This is why many parents will give a non-verbal cue by opening their mouths when it is time for the baby to eat. The baby will look at the parent and mimic the same actions.

This art of copying people can be utilized during important sessions such as job interviews and business presentations. Correct mimicry will allow a person to achieve a more positive outcome in his or her situation. An experiment by Duke University involved multiple studies of mimicking throughout the globe. In all of these studies, a constant result showed that positive effects such as trust and likability occurred after mimicking personal gestures. The people who were being mimicked were not aware of the intentions. Tanya Chartrand, a social psychologist, labeled this phenomenon as the “chameleon effect”.

In the case of mimicry, scientists wanted to see if an AI could imitate human users and create the same kind of chameleon effects. The study relating to this question called for several Stanford students to gather in a virtual space, and listen to a virtual AI avatar advocate campus security policies. There were two scenarios for this experiment. In one, the virtual agent would copy the head movements of the students with a delay. In the other, the virtual agent did not mimic any movements.
The results were spot on. Participants rated mimicking agents as not only being more persuasive, but also more credible and trustworthy, than those agents who did not mimic.

So how could this kind of social influence change the way we view virtual beings?
Imagine a virtual car sales person who is programmed to imitate the movements of car buyers in a digital show room. The impacts of this could be huge in terms of influencing the actions of other humans through virtual mimicry.

I will be investigating these social vs virtual situations more in my blog


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