Social facilitation effects of virtual humans
Park, Sung Jun
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When people do an easy task, and another person is nearby, they tend to do that task better than when they are alone. Conversely, when people do a hard task, and another person is nearby, they tend to do that task less well than when they are alone. This phenomenon is referred to in the social psychology literature as "social facilitation" (the name derives from the "good" side of the effect). Different theories have been proposed to explain this effect. The present study investigated whether people respond to a virtual human the same way they do to a real human. Participants were given different tasks to do that varied in difficulty. The tasks involved anagrams, mazes, modular arithmetic, and the Tower of Hanoi. They did the tasks either alone, in the company of another person, or in the company of a virtual human on a computer screen. As with a human, virtual humans produced the social facilitation effect: for easy tasks, performance in the virtual human condition was better than in the alone condition, and for difficult tasks, performance in the virtual human condition was worse than in the alone condition. Implications for the design of instructional systems as well as other systems involving human-computer interactions are discussed.