24 August 2010

Second Life As Science: Studying The Bystander Effect

Guest Article by Alexis Bonari

Genovese Syndrome, otherwise known as the Bystander Effect, has long been a source of curiosity among both psychologists and laymen alike.  In short, the Bystander Effect can be characterized as follows: an individual being assaulted or otherwise attacked is less likely to receive help when numerous observers are present.  Cases of murder and physical abuse have occurred with no intervention on densely populated streets in broad daylight.  When more people were present, the victim was less likely to receive direct assistance.

Courtesy Xbox 360 Videos

A New Game In Town

Animation experts from Bournemouth University- UK have been given a grant to create a believable virtual world and avatars.  These will be used by The University College London to answer the following questions: why does the Bystander Effect happen and under what circumstances is it most likely to occur?

Where Virtual Meets Reality

Previous studies tracking the behaviors of Second Life players have shown a strong correlation between choices made in the game environment, and real-world decisions. It isn’t such a stretch, therefore, to assume that the choices made by online game players could be studied and applied to real-world scenarios.

The Test

Highly detailed avatars, much like those commonly seen in the popular online environment Second Life, will be created and staged in a realistic, virtual world. Participants in the study will be encouraged to interact with other players, building relationships as they would in any social simulation. Then, researchers will use their avatars to commit violent acts against other players in the virtual environment. Levels of protective response, verbal feedback, and other indicators will be tracked and studied to find patterns.

Setting A Precedent

Although the Bournemouth study has yet to produce any results, the use of a digital environment for studying human behavior is groundbreaking.  If the results of the experiment prove reliable in the real world, there’s little doubt that future experimental models will include virtual reality elements.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She spends much of her days blogging about Education and CollegeScholarships. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.


  1. Howdy Milton,

    I applaud your work going into the virtual world experience for educational purposes.

    Below are a couple of machinima videos I made for academic purposes. If you need my help, just let me know.

    -Cecil Hirvi/G. Aguilar

    Synthetic Masquerade Exhibition

    Boise State in Second Life


  2. 'Then, researchers will use their avatars to commit violent acts against other players in the virtual environment.'

    ah...Academic Bloodlines!

    Someone must be sitting on the ethics manual for conducting research in virtual worlds because it doesn't yet seem to be in general circulation...

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