Last week I reported on a psychological experiment in which people gave strong electric shocks to a female avatar despite empathizing with the virtual being as if she were human. Here’s a second video from the experiment. This takes place toward the end of the test, and shows a participant continuing to shock the avatar even though she has stopped responding to his questions altogether.
In their report, the researchers write:
The main conclusion of our study is that humans tend to respond realistically at subjective, physiological, and behavioural levels in interaction with virtual characters notwithstanding their cognitive certainty that they are not real. The specific conclusion of this study is that within the context of the particular experimental conditions described participants became stressed as a result of giving ‘electric shocks’ to the virtual Learner [ie, avatar]. It could even be said that many showed care for the well-being of the virtual Learner – demonstrated, for example, by their delay in administering the shocks after her failure to answer towards the end of the experiment.
I hate to think what’s going to happen when they build the first prison in Second Life.