- 1 Corinna's E-Portfolio
- 2 Topic One: Introduction
- 3 Topic Two: Social Self
- 4 Topic Three: Social Thinking
- 5 Topic Four: Aggression
- 6 Topic Five: Prejudice
- 7 Topic Six: Relationships
- 8 Topic Seven: Groups
- 9 Topic Eight: Pro-social
- 10 Topic Nine: Environment
- 11 Topic Ten: Review
- 12 Major Essay Topic: Real versus 3-D Virtual Worlds
Welcome to my social psychology e-portfolio. My name is Corinna. I am in my final semester of a psychology degree at the University of Canberra. Currently I am undertaking a unit, social psychology that requires me to record my learning in an e-portfolio. My aim for my e-portfolio is to create a record of my learning that is unique to my personal opinion and experience. I do not want my e-portfolio to simply be a regurgitation of definitions from the textbook and examples already used in lectures, as I think that would be the most painful piece of writing for my lecturer to read, and it really does not prove my engagement with the various topics and theories. I plan to document theories that I personally find most interesting and ideas that are applicable to my own life experience, that can serve as real-life examples to these social psychological concepts.
Before I get into it, I just want to mention how much I am looking forward to engaging in this unit. I actually took psychology as a major in college, where we spend a semester studying social psychology, and I need to say that it was my absolutely most favourite course ever. I find the theories so interesting. I believe it is an understudied area and I think there is a lot that can still be learned about people and why they behave the way they do in the social world that we live in.
Topic One: Introduction
• Social psychology- “a branch of psychology that seeks a broad understanding of how human beings think, act, and feel” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p. 8).
A Career in Social Psychology
When reading chapter one, I was surprised to see all of the different ways that social psychologists can work in other branches of psychology, such as clinical psychology and developmental psychology. As I am in my final year of the bachelors program, I am seriously trying to narrow down my specialised psychology interests, so that I have an idea about where I want to go from here. Social psychology is an area that I find very appealing, however to be honest, up until this point I have been unsure how what sort of work they actually do in their field, besides from research, so it was good to see that there are other areas where their knowledge and skills can be utilised.
Social Comparison and Performance
I found the Norman Triplett cycling experiment, believed to be the first recorded social psychology experiment interesting and very applicable. I myself, used to be a very competitive dancer, and from a very young age I became aware of the huge difference in my performance between when I was dancing in a competition or even at class amongst my peers, compared to when I practiced alone at home. In fact, one year our teacher caught onto this phenomenon and scheduled more classes so that we would get in more hours of dance practice where we were actually dancing to our potential, and not simply practicing sloppy, bad habits when nobody was watching.
Nature Says Go, Culture Says Stop
I found chapter two of the text quite interesting, which looked at nature and culture. There was a section of the chapter entitled 'nature says go, culture says stop', which made the point that there are many behaviours that we as humans are compelled to engage in (the prime example being sex out of marriage/ at a young age/ with multiple partners) that our cultural norms are opposed to. This made me realise how strong our need to be accepted in society is. If each person deep down wants to behave in these 'culturally deviant' ways, then why do they too perpetuate the norms that influence others not to engage in these behaviours, almost like they are holding themselves back? I guess I wonder what it would take to break down some of these cultural ideals, whether the answer lies in numbers, religion or beliefs etc.
Topic Two: Social Self
• Social (interpersonal) self- “the image of the self that is conveyed to others” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.72).
I really do not know how to comment on the 'self-esteem, self-deception, positive illusion, and self-presentation concepts outlined in the text. To be honest they make me feel strange inside. I know that I myself am also guilty of trying to present myself in a particular way to make an impression or convey some image, but I really wish that I did not. I really do not like the idea of this kind of behaviour, but I understand that it is inevitable, and it does serve as a function of our social world. It immediately makes me think of those awful years of mid-adolescence, where kids will do anything to be liked by others, often harming themselves either physically or emotionally, which is really scary.
Topic Three: Social Thinking
• Social Thinking- “any sort of thinking by people about people and about social relationships” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.147).
People Thinking About People
I enjoyed reading the textbook chapter about social cognition. It was interesting to read that people think about other people more than they think about any other topic. I too am very guilty of this, and it is a major part of why I chose to study psychology at university. My mum recalls that from a very young age I was interested in finding out everything I could about people. I was very big on ‘staring’, and would ask the most embarrassing questions related to people (often in front of them). Even today I will catch myself trying to use clues (clothing, friends, textbooks) to decipher people’s personalities. I suppose I use schemas and heuristics to make these assumptions, which can be correct, but will often result in stereotyping people.
I found the concept of the ‘self-serving bias’ really funny, as I know so many people who do take so much credit for their success, but cannot accept their failure. One of my really close friends always implements a self-serving bias every time he receives university work back. Whenever he does really well he will gloat about how intelligent he is or how much effort he put into the assignment or exam study. However, when he does poorly, he attributes his low grades to really unfair marking, a tutor that doesn’t like him, or an exceptionally hard piece of assessment. I however know him well enough to see the real patterns in his scores, and I can assure that they result solely from the effort he puts into the assessment item, because contrary to what he believes, he does put excessive amounts of effort into some assignments (usually for topics that he’s interested in), but will cram others. I just wonder whether people are aware when they do this and are simply trying to make themselves feel better, or whether they genuinely fool themselves, and cannot see this phenomenon.
Topic Four: Aggression
• Aggression- “any behaviour intended to harm another person who is motivated to avoid the harm” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.292).
• Anti-social behaviour- "behaviour that either damages interpersonal relationships or is culturally undesirable" (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.294).
Domestic Violence and Gender
I came across a section of the textbook entitled, 'domestic and relationship violence'. It was very interesting to read that women actully abuse their partners more than men do. I am sure this is a fact that the majority of Australians are oblivious to, except for the poor vctims of the abuse. It is outlined that they do not cause as much harm, so I woud be interested to find out what actually are the effects of this abuse, and if some men even realise that it is occurring. On reflection, I know that once in a while I give my partner a litte slap or push, but always in a joking, friendly way, and it is seen as cute or playful by thosse around me. But I wonder how a teeny little slap or push would go down if the roles were reversed. I defintely know that the public and my friends wouldn't approve of it, and it would take me by suprise. It's just so strange that society has different norms about this form of aggressive behaviour for different genders. We examined the issue of women beating their husbands in one of my other classes this semester, and it was amazing to find that there are few (if any) services available that offer to assist with this problem. In fact, there have been many reports of men being turned any from domestic abuse shelters by services that do not yet see this issue as a problem.
Topic Five: Prejudice
• Prejudice- “a negative feeling toward an individual based solely on his or her membership in a particular group” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.403).
The Australian Eye
We watched Jane Elliot’s, 'The Australian Eye' in our tutorial this week, which I just love. I first saw this experiment in year 12, and I still enjoy watching it. My tutorial class did not take to the DVD very well, and I can understand that a lot of people cannot cope with Jane’s confrontational way of proving a point. I personally think that her methods are very effective at teaching people about prejudice as she gives them a first hand feel to it. Some members of my class were shocked to witness the way that Jane treated the elderly man who wanted a seat. I myself understood the point Jane was making by kicking him out of the class. People who are victims of prejudice are almost always also victims of unjustified stereotypes. They virtually go hand in hand. Indigenous Australians are victims of a wide range of stereotypes, and are treated as a whole, not as individuals. Very rarely do people make room for individual exceptions with Indigenous Australians, which is the point the Jane was making in her interactions with the elderly man. I believe that white Australians have a very ‘get over it and get on with it’ approach towards Indigenous Australians, and most attempts to improve their wellbeing has been a result of what white Australians think they need and want, and not facilitated by the needs and wants of Indigenous Australian’s themselves.
Ghosts of Rwanda
We also watched the movie ‘Ghosts of Rwanda’, which was just so sad. What stood out to me most was that there was no substantial difference between the Tutsi's and the Hutu's. The two groups were formed based solely on a minor physical feature. Initially I thought this was just a one off phenomenon, but then it occurred to me how often if actually occurs. When it comes down to it, most prejudice is a result of a minor difference between two groups of people, often a physical feature. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could just see this and realise that their prejudice is unsubstantiated.
Topic Six: Relationships
Close relationships are really strange things, and I never understand the norms and ideals that are attached to relationships. For example, my boyfriend and I have been together for almost 5 years, since we were 16, and we receive such mixed reactions about it from people. Some people think it is so sweet and believe that we are a great match and should work hard to maintain our relationship, and other people think we are crazy (particularly because we are each others first serious partners) and should not be in a serious relationship until we ‘try’ other people first. The most frustrating thing is having people tell you that your relationship will not last. I personally believe that every relationship is different because every individual is different, and when two people are joined through a relationship, they bring unique qualities to the table, not found in any other relationship.
Topic Seven: Groups
• Group- “a collection of at least two people who are doing or being something together” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.480).
In-Groups and Out-Groups
Back in the very first tutorial we completed an exercise where James called out different attributes such as birth order and where we live, and we had to form groups with other people who has the same attribute as us. It was interesting as people began to get very competitive about which attributes were better and very subtly would make others feel very much like an outsider. This is interesting as it shows that in-goups and out-groups can form almost instantly, even when people know that the next minute they will reform into a new group with members of the current out-group.
One of the groups that we had to split into was blue eyes and brown eyes. As my eyes are a crazy hazel that will change with the weather, I was a little unsure which group to join. First I tried the brown eye group, but they said my eyes were too light and I should join the blue eyed group, which I attempted until members of that group believed that my eyes did not fit the blue/green criteria and I didn't belong. I was torn between two group that didn't want me. After reflecting on this for a few weeks, I realised how common this event must be for some people. I could imagine that there must be people who don't feel a part of certain racial categories or sexual orientation categories as an example, which must be very hard for people. A great example of this is my best friend from high school who was born in India but raised in Australia. Once I asked her what cricket team she cheers for. What she went on to tll me was suprising. She claimed that when she's in Australia people see her as an outsider because of her appearance, so she sees herself as very much Indian. However, when she visits India, locals can easily tell that she is a foreigner due to her accent and mannerisms, so she is again treated differently, and sees herself as Australian. If only we didn't have such strict and defined rules about membership of certain groups, people would feel more like they belong.
• Pro-social behaviour- “doing something that is good for other people or for society as a whole” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.254).
Pro-social behaviour is an interesting topic. The textbook puts forward the question, ‘is altruism possible?’ I have often wondered if it is. I personally feel that a lot of people here in Australia donate money to charities purely because they feel pressure to, they want to look good in front of other people, or some may even wish to receive ‘good karma’ from doing good deeds. I myself have done this. I went to catholic schools for all of my schooling where almost every week we held cake stalls or raffles to raise money for charities. I honestly cannot remember a time when I donated my time or money to the cause simply for altruistic reasons. It was always to gain some sort of reward or status, whether it was gaining something such as a cake or sausage, or to win points for my house group, or to look good in front of teachers and friends. This was all very different however, at the beginning of this year when my boyfriend and I went on a trip to China. We traveled all around the country from the well known cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, to less Westernised cities such as Xian, Chengdu, and Guangzhou. We saw some amazing sights, but boy did we see some poverty. We saw everything from beggars with no legs wheeling themselves around on homemade skateboards, to a young woman trying to entertain and educate her little boys whilst begging for their next meal, to a teenage boy being physically beaten out of a McDonalds for eating scraps out of the bins, to a teenage girl pleading for money to pay for the removal of her brain tumor (and she had the CAT scans laid out on the ground to prove it). Oh it makes me sick just thinking about it, and the extent to which we are sheltered from it here in Australia. Innately, I knew that I had to help. It was like everything that my Catholic schooling had taught me about helping those in need came out all at once, but I did not even realise it. Not once did I think about how I looked in front of others, or what I was gaining. I didn’t even worry about what I was losing. Perhaps deep down I felt like I needed to ‘pay it forward’ because I come from such a privileged country, but whatever the reason, I just needed to help them. So I donated money toward the young girls operation, and bought biscuits and water for the little boys and their mother, and paid for a McDonald’s meal for the teenage boy. Anyway, in summary I think that altruism is possible. Sometimes I think it just may take an overwhelming or tragic situation to bring out this quality in people, otherwise they are willing to sit back and watch it all go by.
The Bystander Effect
This leads me to the bystander effect, which I personally think is so powerful. Why do I think it is powerful?...because I have seen it in action myself. In year 12 sociology, my classmate did an assignment on altruism, focusing on the bystander effect. She wanted to test this phenomenon in our own community. So she set up an experiment (psychology ethics comities will not be happy) and used me as a dummy. I had to walk around alone in Garema Place in Civic with a cardigan hanging over my shoulder bag, and eventually drop the cardigan pretending not to notice. We completed 10 trials where I dropped the cardigan when only 1 or 2 people were around. The results found that every time the person would kindly pick up my cardigan or point out that I had dropped it. We also completed 10 trials where I dropped the cardigan around lunchtime where dozens of people were walking around, and only in 3 out of the 10 trials did people assist me with my cardigan. My classmate watched the experiments from distance and could see that on the 7 other trials, at least a few people would notice my cardigan but where happy to let me walk away without it. This example really shows that there is a diffusion of responsibility among groups of people when a helping situation arises.
Topic Nine: Environment
• Environmental Psychology- "environmental psychology studies the interactions between people and their envoronments" (Oskamp & Schultz, 1998, p.206).
I had never actually heard about environmental psychology until now, however I can see why it should be studied as I can believe that the environment would play a huge role in influencing human behaviour. I visited Hong Kong earlier this year and was amazed to see how differently people live there. Most families live in tiny two bedroom apartments, which has to sleep parents, children, and more often than not, elderly grandparents. As well as this, a lot of fmilies share communal kitchens and living quarters with other families in the complex. I truly wonder what effect these environmental conditions have on individuals over the years, and whether it shapes them as human beings. Perhaps these residents do not see this matter as an environmental issue, but rather a cultural phenomenon, that is very normal and perhaps 'sought out' by the people of Hong Kong. Either way, I know the conditions are very different to what we are used to here in Australia, and just wonder what imapact it may have.
Topic Ten: Review
Well that pretty much wraps up my e-portfolio. I just had a look on wikiversity at what everyone else has done and realised mine is very different (Ha! There I go making a social comparison). My e-portfolio is very informal, and does not present a lot of substantial content such as definitions and theories like most other people have done. I really hope I didn’t have the wrong idea! My portfolio is very much like a personal journal…the social psychology of my own life, including personal thoughts and experiences, which I suppose is the reason why I was hesitant to post at first, and only posted my e-portfolio at the very last minute. For those of you who have had the chance to read my portfolio, I hope you enjoyed some of my stories, and have a better understanding of some of the concepts of social psychology through these real-life examples.
I have learned a lot throughout the semester. I really liked the textbook. It was very informative, however explained concepts and theories through really great examples, not just definitions. The tutorials were great to attend and the movies we watched as a part of the unit were really relevant and interesting.
Major Essay Topic: Real versus 3-D Virtual Worlds
I actually have to admit I was ‘socially influenced’ (mind the pun) into choosing this topic for my major essay by my beloved boyfriend. He is a media student at UC who has had to take a number of communications units as a part of his degree, where he has studied computer mediated communication thoroughly, and has done a little work on 3-D virtual worlds. On top of this, he spends approximately 5 hours (he says 2-3) a day playing online computer games such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. So I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me to do a little research into what motivates him to engage in these games instead of spending time with me!
I have begun doing a little bit of research, and to be honest, this is a very understudied topic. I am assuming this is because it is such a new and constantly evolving activity. I have found a multitude of journal articles that have compared real versus virtual worlds (which have actually been very interesting, and I will definitely use some of the concepts in my essay) however, they have focused only on online forums, blogs, chat sites, websites, and e-mail, and not on 3-D virtual worlds like Second Life.
I have just found a few journal articles that will really help me with my assignment. I just did general searches for Second Life and World of Warcraft and found some information that gives me some insight into how these games are actually played and what happens during play. This has really helped me to identify differences between these worlds and the real world. Yay! I am finally on track. It will still however be a long and draining weekend of essay writing.
Well I have finished my essay. It was a very different essay to write, as I think a lot of other people will also have found. I really do not know if I answered the question or have utilised the appropriate social psychological theories but anways it is done and can be viewed below:
Every day, millions of individuals interact in 3-D virtual worlds on the internet (Yee, Bailenson, Urbanek, Chang & Merget, 2006). Online games such as ‘Second Life’ and ‘World of Warcraft’ have become increasingly popular as new technology continues to enhance visual graphics and interactions that can occur. Motivations for engagement in these games have been found to be widespread, however the most common reason for engagement remains to be for social interaction (Cole & Griffiths, 2007; McKenna & Bargh, 1999). As 3-D virtual worlds enable individuals to communicate and interact with other individuals in real-time over the internet, social psychologists have recently become interested in the positive and negative effects that these environments have on users, and how the social psychological characteristics of 3-D virtual worlds differ to those in the real-world (Yee et al., 2007). The core characteristics that are explored include group membership, close relationships, prejudice and social norms. These factors are examined using social psychological theory and current research regarding 3-D virtual worlds.
Participation in 3-D Virtual Worlds Millions of individuals use the internet each day, as a tool for communication and social interaction (Sassenberg, Boos & Rabung, 2005). The internet is an electronic network that instantly transfers data from one network node to another all around the world. Unlike traditional modes of communication such as telephones, the internet has been referred to as a many-to-many tool of communication, allowing multiple individuals to access the same information and to communicate with a number people at one time (Flew, 2005). Computer mediated communication is quickly becoming a preferred means of communication, with many people utilising e-mail and online telephone, and choosing to spend leisure time in online games (Carter, 2004).
As the internet has advanced, so has the notion of gaming. Traditional arcade games have evolved into 3-D virtual worlds, where players interact with other players online (Smyth, 2007). These virtual worlds, also referred to as massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are becoming increasingly popular, with millions of users devoting an average of 22 hours a week to participation (Yee et al., 2007). Participation in MMORPGs is quite different to traditional games, as individuals do not need to be in a face-to-face-setting. Players can connect to these games from their own computer or console and instantly interact with other players from all over the world, directly defeating traditional barriers of proximity (Sassenberg et al., 2005). Personal physical cues are also not present in these games. In most MMORPGs, players will have the opportunity to create an avatar, which is an online identity that is seen to others and can often perform actions such as walking, flying or even shopping (Talamo & Ligorio, 2001).
Two very popular MMORPGs include Second Life and World of Warcraft. Second Life is a 3-D virtual community, where users navigate through an online world using their avatar, which is a digital representation of themselves, whether or not they correlate physically. Objects in the game can be quite lifelike, allowing avatars to purchase and live in houses and buy clothing. Interactions are also realistic as avatars communicate through text, and prerecorded conversation, as well as make friends, move in together and get married (Yee et al., 2007). Second Life has over 10 million registered users and approximately 50,000 avatars connected to the virtual world at all times (Melby, 2008). World of Warcraft is a fantasy MMORPG, where players use avatars that interact to complete quests and achieve group goals. The more time a player invests in their avatar, the more powerful it becomes, allowing the player to experience more complex quests and social interactions, and gain rewards. To advance in the game, social interaction with other players is a high necessity, as the game utilises between player trading and organisation of ‘clan’ quests, often involving many players (Chen, Sun & Hsieh, 2008). There are approximately 9.3 million users that pay monthly subscription fees to engage in World of Warcraft (Melby, 2008).
Group Membership in Virtual Worlds versus Real Worlds Baumeister and Bushman (2008) define groups as “a collection of people, usually people who are doing or being something together” (p.480). Social psychologists identify the core benefit of groups as giving a sense of belonging to its members (McKenna & Bargh, 1998). Like real groups in the community MMORPGs also give its members a sense of belonging. It could be argued that online communities may give individuals greater feelings of belonging, as these groups often cater for specialised interests that individuals may not be able to express in regular real-life community groups, such as school groups (Cole & Griffiths, 2007).
Group roles that are undertaken in MMORPGs differ widely from each virtual world. Second Life aims to replicate real-life closely by creating independent and equal members of the community. Avatars must gain respect through status that they gain through their careers and assets (Yee et al., 2007). Avatars must be males or female, and gender stereotypes such as ideal of women being young, thin and full-chested are reported to be stronger in Second Life than in real-life, suggesting that it is perhaps more socially acceptable for women to be objectified in 3-D virtual worlds than in the real world (Melby, 2008). World of Warcraft is very different to Second Life in regards to group roles. Avatars are members of different races and classes, which have specific roles through the games such as healers and warriors. Also, as players progress in level, their roles become more complex and they exert more power and influence over other avatars, such as being designated as leader during quests (Cole & Griffiths, 2007). This group role structure reflects the structure of some real-life groups such as workplaces where individuals have varying jobs, and gain more power and responsibility as they progress (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008).
Close Relationships and Attraction in Virtual Worlds versus Real Worlds Close relationships such as friendships and romantic relationships have been noted as forming through 3-D virtual worlds (Bargh & McKenna, 2004). A study by Cole and Griffiths (2007) studied a sample of MMORPG players from 45 countries (n = 912) and found that 76.2% of male and 74.7% of female participants had made what they considered to be ‘good friends’ through online game playing.
In the study conducted by Cole and Griffiths (2007) it was also discovered that 31.3% of participants had found themselves romantically attracted to other players. This rejects traditional social psychological theory regarding attraction and proximity, however embraces the propinquity effect which states that simply by being around people regularly can facilitate attraction (Festinger, Schachter & Back, 1950, cited in Baumeister and Bushman, 2008). Recent evidence has shown that increasing numbers of individuals are engaging in intimate relationships with individuals that they met through virtual worlds (Leo Whang & Chang, 2004). A qualitative research study conducted by Melby (2008) examines the lifestyle of an American Second Life player, Ric Hoogestraat. Hoogestraat is married in real life, yet is also married through a Second Life avatar. The study describes him as spending hours each day connected to the game, ignoring his real wife, and investing real money and hours into his virtual wife. Hoogestraat’s real wife, Sue Hoogestraat expressed dissatisfied with the situation, claiming, “He’s just fallen down the rabbit hole” (Melby, 2008, p.1). This study highlights the notion that whilst online intimate relationships may be evolving through MMORPGs, the impact they are having on real-life relationships may actually be negative.
Social psychological theory regarding attraction reveals that ‘beautiful people’ are more popular, sought after, and thought to also be superior regarding other unrelated traits, such as intelligence, happiness, and wealth (Baumeister and Bushman, 2008). When people become attracted to others simply due to physical beauty, often these romantic relationships will fail after the partners realise that they actually have little in common regarding their beliefs and interests. A study conducted by Hill, Rubin & Peplau (1976, cited in McKenna & Bargh, 2000) examined 200 couples that declared that they were ‘in love’, over a period of 2 years. On the completion of the 2 years, 50% of the couples had broken up. The key reason that was reported as causing the separation was that they had since discovered that they had opposing attitudes and interests. As virtual worlds are played using avatars, meaning that the true identities of the players are anonymous, players often reveal more internal characteristics when communicating with others online, such as values, and interests (Sassenberg et al., 2005). When close relationships develop from these online environments, couples will tend to have a deeper understanding of each other earlier in the relationship, as opposed to focusing on superficial physical features (McKenna & Bargh, 2000). This implies that virtual worlds may have an advantage over real worlds regarding positive long-term relationships.
Many theorists have hypothesised that virtual worlds lack the ability to engage in advanced communication that can occur in the real world. The virtual communication of players of MMORPGs is not conducted face-to-face, meaning that regular body language that people normally read in the real world is hidden (McKenna & Bargh, 2000). Despite this, members of virtual worlds have developed their own unique forms of communications, which may actually strengthen group cohesion and the sense of belongingness, and assist in relationship development. 3-D virtual games like Second Life and World of Warcraft use a variety of communication methods such as text chat, prerecorded conversations and interactions, emoticons, which are suggestive of facial expressions (Derks, Bos & Von Grumberg, 2007) and more frequently through voice chat (Chen et al., 2008). Therefore, whilst communication may be lacking in virtual worlds, it could be argued that these worlds actually foster more group appropriate and specific communication that has been developed uniquely for the groups needs.
Prejudice in Virtual Worlds versus Real Worlds Prejudice has been defined as “a negative attitude or feeling toward an individual based solely on that individual’s membership in a certain group” (Baumeister and Bushman, 2008, p. 403). As a result of prejudice relating to identity, such as skin colour and weight, many individuals find themselves marginalised and lacking in social networks (McKenna & Bargh, 1998). Virtual worlds can actually be a positive environment for these individuals, as the anonymity that the internet provides allows for participation, regardless of physical cues that people are often judged on (Nowak, 2003). For individuals who are socially marginalised such as former prison inmates or homosexuals, online groups can be the perfect place to seek out friendships with similar individuals as it is less embarrassing to share these personal details with others when done using the ‘mask’ of the avatar, which is not possible in real-life (McKenna & Bargh, 1998; Talamo & Ligorio, 2001). Therefore, 3-D virtual worlds differ to real worlds in that they aim to facilitate egalitarian participation in their communities and reduce stigmatisation that can occur through the identifiability of physical features (Nowak, 2003).
Whilst virtual worlds may be considered less prejudiced than real-life worlds, MMORPGs still contain groups, many of which are built into the game, therefore between group prejudices within the game are inevitable. Baumeister and Bushman (2008) identify some of the key reasons for the development of prejudice as including in-group favouritism and competition over scarce resources. These factors are a key part of World of Warcraft, where clans frequently meet to battle other clans for desirable items and rewards, which will in turn serve to strengthen the clan for future battles (Chen et al., 2008). As World of Warcraft is such a competitive arena, much like an academic institution or a sporting group in the real-world, it is understandable from a social psychological viewpoint that stereotypes are easily formed about out-group members and often prejudiced behaviours may then been undertaken (Douglas & McGarty, 2001).
Social comparison theory states that typical group members strive to be better than the other members of a group (Lee, 2007). This is evident in MMORPGs such as Second Life, where players will spend real money on clothes and property for their online avatars to appear different or enhanced (Melby, 2008). This obsession could potentially lead to prejudice through putting other players down in an attempt to make oneself superior to other avatars in the game (Lee, 2007).
Prejudice may also be sparked by deindividuation, which refers to “the loss of self-awareness and of individual accountability in a group” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.483). McKenna and Bargh (2000) identify anonymity, feelings of close group unity, and a focus on group goals as the key factors that cause deindividuation, which often results in prejudice and aggression. These factors are all evident in World of Warcraft game play (Chen et al., 2008). Therefore, prejudice caused by deindividuation may in fact be higher in some virtual worlds, such as World of Warcraft, due to enhanced group cohesion at given times. Scientific evidence of this however is lacking.
Social Norms in Virtual Worlds versus Real Worlds Social norms can be found in any group in any part of the world. Norms can be defined as “the beliefs or behaviours that a group of people accepts as normal” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.445). Group norms usually apply to areas such as appropriate language, roles, and beliefs and values (Sassenberg et al., 2005). 3-D virtual worlds, like real words utilise social norms. These range from conduct rules that are set by the producers of the games, to specific group norms, such as the expectation of more advanced players to assist other players in the World of Warcraft, to traditional gender norms in Second Life (Chen et al., 2008; Melby, 2008).
The amount of social influence that players in MMORPGs assert over other players is a debated topic. Some researchers hypothesise that because players of these games are generally highly absorbed in the game, they are more likely to be persuaded into participation or easily influenced in some way (Smyth, 2007). Other theorist however, believe that due to the anonymity aspect of these environments, players feel more at ease about withdrawing from the game in awkward moments, such as when they are being persuaded by group members (Bargh & McKena, 2004).
In virtual worlds, unlike real worlds, there has found to be more instances of antisocial behaviour, which refers to “behaviour that either damages interpersonal relationships or is culturally undesirable” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.294). Sessenberg et al. (2005) explain that as computer mediated communication is often anonymous, reduced self-awareness results which may lead to antisocial behaviour. The social-identity model of deindividuation effects supports this notion by suggesting that anonymity has negative behavioral consequences (Douglas & McGarty, 2001). This can be seen in MMORPGs when players post explicit comments in text chat and even display harassment towards other players (McKenna & Bargh, 2000). A proposed explanation of this is that in Western culture, aggression is often discouraged, and in the form of certain behaviours such as harassment, is illegal, therefore when individuals gain the opportunity to engage in antisocial behaviours without being identified, they are willing to do so (Jackson, Zhao, Qiu, Kolenic, Fitzgerald, Harold et al., 2007).
Whilst anti-social behaviour is common in virtual world environments, pro-social behaviour has also been demonstrated. Pro-social behaviour refers to “doing something that is good for other people or for society as a whole” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p.254). Pro-social behaviour is often evident in World of Warcraft, where players will donate goods to more needy or less experienced players, that they often have no connection to (Chen et al., 2008). This behaviour is particularly interesting as players will engage in pro-social behaviour online, where they can not see the player that they are helping, which is unlike pro-social behaviour in the real-world. Explanations for this include that these behaviours are built into the culture of the game, therefore players conform to this norm as they believe that they will in turn be assisted when in need, or perhaps in an attempt to look helpful in front of others (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). Both anti-social and pro-social behaviours are found in virtual worlds, however they vary greatly depending on the characteristics of the game. Further research needs to be conducted examining anti-social and pro-social behaviours in 3-D virtual worlds.
Conclusion An increasing number of people are not only connecting to the internet more frequently, however also engaging in 3-D virtual worlds, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft for social interaction. The social characteristics of these online communities have been explored and compared to the social psychology of the real world. This includes group membership characteristics such as belonging and group roles; areas concerning relationships and attraction, such as intimate relationships, types of attraction, and modes of communication; issues regarding prejudice in and out of the virtual world; social norms of virtual worlds, and levels of pro-social and anti-social behaviour. Overall, many social psychological characteristics that are found in real worlds, were also evident in virtual worlds, however often at varying degrees. Some theories of social psychology were strengthened when applied to MMORPGs, however some applied to a much lesser extent. In summary, it is clear that as an area that is very new, and is constantly evolving, more research needs to be conducted to examine the effects of 3-D virtual worlds on users, and the implications they have for the field of social psychology.
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