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U.S. Research: Better Rooms and Look-alike Avatars Increase Productivity in the Metaverse

Stanford University researchers have suggested that people react more constructively when in a grander room and use a look-alike self-avatar in the metaverse. The conclusion comes after the researchers experimented on VR impacts of social interactions in the metaverse.

The study shows that people can take advantage of the available grandness of VR by opting for large, outdoor environments instead of recreating cramped meeting rooms or lecture halls and using a self-representing avatar.

In the virtual settings experiment, students interacted in constrained or broad virtual environments, indoors and outdoors. The researchers created 192 different backgrounds, ranging from fast train cars to vast enclosed arenas and from walled gardens to endless fields.

Over eight weeks, 272 students used VR headsets to meet in virtual environments for 30 minutes once a week. The students participated in two experiments during those sessions, accumulating hundreds of thousands of minutes of interactions for researchers to analyse.

As a result, when students interacted in wide-open virtual spaces, whether indoors or outdoors, they demonstrated greater nonverbal synchrony and reported increases in many positive measures compared to students who interacted in constrained surroundings. Students promote greater group cohesion, pleasure, arousal, presence, and enjoyment in a larger virtual space. The study also found that outdoor environments with natural elements elicited more positive feelings, regardless of the apparent size of the virtual space.

“Where you are in the metaverse can significantly impact your experience as well as the shared experience of a group. Large, open, panoramic spaces for people to move around really helped with group behaviour,” says study Lead Author, Eugy Han, a PhD student in communication advised by Jeremy Beilenson, the Thomas More Storke Professor in Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Sciences.

“At the heart of collaboration is people attending and productively reacting to one another. Our data show that these great downstream things happen when you make your virtual rooms larger than a traditional office space,” says Bailenson.

The study, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, is the most recent to emerge from Stanford University’s innovative Virtual People course. The course, taught by Bailenson and colleagues, is one of the first and most significant to be held entirely in virtual reality.

Another experiment looked at the effects of the students’ identities on how they presented themselves as avatars. As a result, self-avatars are the preferred option for more positive and collaborative interactions, such as in the workplace or for professional purposes.

Students in the study interacted virtually with each other as self-avatars, which resembled the students’ actual, physical-world appearances, or as generic avatars, who all looked and dressed alike. The students reported their feelings about group cohesion, presence, enjoyment, and realism after the researchers observed their VR behaviours.

“When you’re getting serious in the metaverse, you want to look like you,” says Bailenson, co-author of the study and the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL).

The study discovered that when students were represented by avatars that looked like them, they displayed more nonverbal synchrony, which means they gestured and postured similarly to one another.

“People liked being in generic avatars that had no identity. “However, when self-avatars represented students, they reported feeling more active and engaged,” Han added.

In line with these findings, students reported feeling more “in sync” with themselves and each other when they gathered as self-avatars. When they were virtually represented as generic avatars and thus “not themselves,” the students reported that the experience was entertainingly liberating.

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