Social Learning in VR
Understanding how social interactions shape an organism’s behavior, specifically their approach and avoidance tendencies towards interaction partners associated with reward or threat, is a crucial mechanism. The current project aims to investigate these processes through a novel social conditioning procedure that shares key features with comparable protocols in the animal literature (Toth et al., 2012).
Participants will have the opportunity to freely navigate a virtual reality (VR) scenario using a locomotion platform. Within this VR environment, they will encounter two agents who react to the participant’s presence. During an initial acquisition phase, if a participant approaches one of the agents, that agent will display aggressive and threatening behaviors (such as an angry facial expression, dominant body posture, and insulting utterances), while the other agent will exhibit friendly behaviors. In a subsequent test phase, these same agents will be placed in different contexts, where they do not strongly respond to the participant.
The primary goal of this study is to investigate whether participants, varying in their trait social anxiety, display differential approach and avoidance tendencies towards differently conditioned virtual agents at a behavioral level (including whole-body movement and interpersonal distance). We will also examine active exploration, particularly gaze behavior, and assess subjective responses, such as perceived likeability, fear, and anger. Additionally, differences in autonomic responses, including pupillary, electrodermal, and cardiovascular responses, will be analyzed.
This study was first presented on our self-organized conference on extended reality reality as a research tool: Wuertual 2023.
Collaborators: Matthias Gamer