In this paper, we describe a method for collecting and interpreting interpersonal behavioral data in the Virtual World, Second Life. To illustrate this method we provide details for the implementation of a study on social distances between Black, White, and Asian participants in Second Life. Participants’ avatars were fitted with a virtual object containing a computer script that recorded their coordinates on the Second Life grid at one-second intervals. Participants interacted at a social event in a controlled environment in Second Life for 15 minutes. A computer algorithm (developed for this study in the statistical analysis program, R) was used to calculate each participant’s average social distance from one another across the 15-minute event. Average social distance scores were then aggregated into social distance towards racial groups as a whole (i.e., each participants’ social distance towards Blacks, Whites, and Asians). This paper provides details for researchers interested in adopting or modifying our Virtual World method for interpersonal behavioral data collection and interpretation. Specifically we focus on the development of a controlled Second Life environment, the adaptation of a Second Life computer script (adapted from Yee & Bailenson, 2008), the computer algorithm for calculating social distances, and our methods for recruiting and conducting study trials.
Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace