Technology & Science

Virtual men are standoffish, too: study

Males stand further away when talking to other males in the virtual world of Second Life and are less likely to keep eye contact, according to a study.

Males stand further away when talking to other males in the virtual world of Second Life and are less likely to keep eye contact, according to a study that shows at least one aspect of human behavior carries over into the virtual realm.

The study found that male "avatars," or three-dimensional representations of people in the online world, stood on average 2.35 metres away from each other, compared to 2.1 metres for mixed-gender pairs — measured, of course, in the virtual scale of Second Life.

Female-female pairs stood only slightly closer to each other than male pairs, but were more likely to maintain eye contact, according to the studyled by doctoral student Nick Yee at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Avatars of all genders were more likely to look away from each other when standing close, much like people in the real world face away when crammed into an elevator.

The results, published in the latest issue of the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, indicate that interaction in virtual environments, such as Second Life, "are governed by the same social norms as social interactions in the physical world," according to the authors.

Second Life is a three-dimensional world, superficially similar to many computer games, where users have great freedom to shape their virtual representations. It is run by the San Francisco-based Linden Lab.

Yee's research assistants used a small program that took "snapshots" of the environment in Second Life, collecting data on the relative distance of hundreds of avatars, how they were facing and if they were talking.

Genders were deduced from their names, which excluded many androgynous avatars. The distance and gaze comparisons looked at avatars within 3.67 metres of another avatar — generally taken to be the upper limit of "social" distance in the real world.

About 3.9 million people from around the world are involved in Second Life, according to the company's website.

Second Lifeopened to the public in 2003.