Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Literature Update

A very interesting (but really very interesting) paper … the consequences are really important if the results get confirmed in the future. The authors found that the volume of the amygdala correlates in humans with the size and complexity of social networks. (I need to check how they quantified social networks … but well, I can not access Nature from this computer J    ). One more role of the amygdala, which was already a central knob for a lot of emotional behavior, and now also become a key player in social behavior (thank you Anna for having pointed out this paper!).

Bickart KC, Wright CI, Dautoff RJ, Dickerson BC, Feldman Barret L (2011) Amygdala volume and social network size in humans. Nature Neurosci, 14:163-164.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


e-Tribe vs. Virtual Community: the concept of e-tribe emerged from early works done on virtual communities (especially the works of Kozinets back in 1997, 1999, and later on). This concept was extremely popular in the first half of the years 2000 (2000-2005 approximately), particularly in the field of marketing (and e-marketing). However, this concept carries the notion of relatively stable and reasonably small and homogeneous groups, as well as the notion of a strong (and somehow absolute) level of affiliation. But clearly, virtual groups can be really large, and usually the same person will belong to several such groups, which may or not overlap. So nowadays, the concept of virtual community is preferred (relating back to the very first concept, but with a different understanding of what a virtual community is).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cyberworld: WoW, the Great Plagues ...

Virtual communities can also be exposed to fast-spreading diseases; to what can be called virtual plagues. And over the years two of such massive epidemics have touched the World of Warcraft cyberworld.

- The Corrupted Blood Plague
The “Corrupted Blood incident” (a nice euphemism for the most important and largest uncontrolled virtual plague which even happened in a virtual world) was one of the most significant events in the history of the virtual world of World of Warcraft ...
September 13, 2005 (well, of course, if you do something on a 13th, you can only expect to lose control of it somehow!), Blizzard introduced into the world of World of Warcraft a new raid area called Zul’Gurub. The final boss was named Hakkar and could affect the players by contaminating them with the “Corrupted Blood”, a virtual disease which would deal significant damages to the players. Even more fun, the disease was contagious, and would be pased to nearby characters.
And of course, not only a bug made this disease long-lasting, but as well, the effect which was supposed to be effective only in Zul’Gurub happened to not be removed when the players left the area using teleportation. So, it went out of control the exact same day, as the first players met Hakkar, and left the area. September 13, 2005, the disease spread around in the cyberworld of World of Warcraft and the “Corrupted Blood” epidemic began.
At this time, the population of World of Warcraft was over 2 millions inhabitants. The pandemic quickly spread all over ... but what is interesting here for us was that new behavior, not typical of World of Warcraft classical role-play/game-play emerged. Actually, those new behaviors mimicked what happens in a real-life pandemic: people acted as if this disease was a real threat to their health (well, it was a threat to the health of their character, somehow). Most people did what they could to avoid at all cost infection by running out of the big cities in which the infection was spreading around faster, or even by leaving the game itself, while some infected people tried to infect others ... Something really interesting also happened, some characters able to heal other characters (in the context of World of Warcraft, hearler characters are often Priests) spontaneously volunteered to take care and cure infected people. Ultimately, Blizzard fixed the problem.

- The Great Zombie Plague
In order to promote the “Wrath of the Lich King” expansion before its release, Blizzard voluntarily released a second disease in mid-October 2008. The “Zombie Plague” was really different from the “Corrupted Blood”. First, this plague was fully intentional. Second it always stayed under control, as Blizzard demonstrated it by fully erasing it October the 28, 2008, after one week of epidemic. Third, the way of propagation was different (the Zombie Plague was less contagious than the Corrupted Blood was).

These plagues (especially the “Corrupted Blood” epidemic) elicited high interest from epidemiologists. Indeed, they provided a unique model of how a massive population would react in real-time to such a wildly propagating pandemic. But several things have to be pointed out in those examples. First, the plagues were not all planed ... Second, control of plagues is not always granted, but is a very important feature to keep the cyberworld safe (as if not, a massive loss of players may occur). Third, research on those phenomena are highly important, since we need to understand more about human behavior in such situations ...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cyberworld: World of Warcraft and social dynamics

The highly popular MMORPG World of Warcraft has been used a lot by scientists as a model to study social dynamics in virtual worlds. Besides the early descriptive works of Nick Yee, there have been a series of interesting contributions dealing with this aspect.
ð  A general paper, talking a lot about fundamental concepts such as social density (Ducheneaut and Moore, 2004). By the way, the concept of social density is something I am very interested in, and that we use extensively in the current studies.
ð  A very interesting paper, which I quote often, dealing with the guild structure dynamics (Chen et al., 2008).
ð  Our recent paper, which demonstrated that social structuring can also be influenced by the avatars’ visual aspect, and which shows that the influence of this factor depends on the degree of visual anthropomorphism of the constitutive avatars (Lortie and Guitton, 2011).
There is still a lot of work which can be done using World of Warcraft as a model. However, it also has some limits … Its major advantage is that is still has a real “massively multiplayer” aspect, and the impact of the guilds in the game design. You want to reach very very high levels and get really unique items? Well, you better be part of an “elite” guild … This really forces people to somehow develop socially active avatars (which may be bad for real nerds, but which helps us a lot, nerdy scientists J  ).

Ducheneaut , Moore (2004). Social side of gaming: A study of interaction patterns in a massively multiplayer online game. In: Proceeding of the 2004 ACM conference on computer supporter cooperative work (CSW04). New York, NY: ACM Press.
Chen CH, Sun CT, Hsieh J (2008) Player guild dynamics and evolution in massively multiplayer online games. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11, 293-301.
Lortie CL, Guitton MJ (2011) Social organization in virtual settings depends on proximity to human visual aspect. Computers in Human Behavior, Accepted.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Literature Update

Something interesting, and which is in the same direction as our working hypothesis. This study analyzed some gender-specific characteristics of computer-mediated communication, as a function of the visual aspect of the avatars ... Well, clearly we are going in that direction too (just see some of our recent papers about multimodal integration). It is in a linguistic journal, so it is longer than the papers we are used to read in some other fields, but there are some very interesting concepts ...

Palomares NA, Lee EJ (2010) Virtual gender-identity: the linguistic assimilation to gendered avatars computer-mediated communication. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 29L5-23.

And just to promote ourselves, some of our papers which are related:

Lortie CL, Guitton MJ (2011) Social organization in virtual settings depends on proximity to human visual aspect. Computers in Human Behavior, Accepted.
Guitton MJ (2010) Cross-modal compensation between name and visual aspect in socially active avatars. Computers in Human Behavior, 26:1772-1776.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Research Update: New Publication

One of our lab members, Catherine Lortie, got her first paper accepted today! Congratulations!
A very good study, truly innovative and using MMORPGs as a research model at their full potential. By analyzing the social dynamics and social organization of something like 12,000 avatars in World of Warcraft, we have been able to demonstrate that the social organization in virtual settings greatly depends on the proximity to a standard visual aspect. In other words, those who look the same will group together ... but only if they look like humans.

Lortie CL, Guitton MJ (2011) Social organization in virtual settings depends on proximity to human visual aspect. Computers in Human Behavior, Accepted.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cyberworld: the Second Life City of Tharna

A place in Second Life that I have been following for some time (see my paper about trade role-play). Even if very controversial, the Gorean community is one of the most vivid communities of the virtual world of Second Life, and in this community, the City of Tharna is without doubt one of the most fascinating places. A truly unique place in Gor. This place is what I would call a legend in Second Life Gor: no other place is so widely known in Second Life Gor, and no other place seems to trigger so strongly polarized reactions. All people in Gor know about this City, some hate it, while most others really love this place. Very interesting structure, with the main gates of the City directly in front of the teleporter point (which I see as a sign of maturity: they welcome visitors but are sure enough of themselves to not have to hide their entrance far away). Very open and friendly City, I met some really amazing people there. For sure, due to the fact that visitors and tourists arrive directly in front of the Gates, from time to time it is possible to witness some funny situations on the docks of the City … but it is also a very lively place where one can see really good role-play episodes. Definitively, a place I recommend in Second Life for those interested in seeing exotic worlds.
Oh, yes. There are seasons in Second Life Gor ... so the City looks differently when the snow is melted ...

Guitton MJ (2011) Immersive role of non-required social actions in virtual settings: the example of trade role-play in the Second Life Gorean community. Design Principles and Practices: an International Journal, In press.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Cyberlife impacts our Real Life ... It may sounds either like a trivial statement, or like a strange statement. But it is true. Influence of the mind over the body has been known since ages, and has been enlighten both by philosophers (Matthieu's current level of philosophy in the morning: the old kendo's saying: "ki ken tai no ichi" (the mind, the sword, and the body are only one)) or by scientists alike (e.g., the pretty old scholarly journal named "Journal of Psychosomatic Research"). Anyway, some striking evidence of these connections, and of the impact that cyberworlds can have over real life, can be found in a recent paper published in Computers in Human Behavior, showing that homeless people who are able to get some support in the virtual world have less health problems ... Well, it should be mentioned that the main effect seems to arise from keeping some social connection and social life ... but, isn't that what cyberworlds are all about?

Eyrich-Garg K (2011) Sheltered in cyberspace? Computer use among the unsheltered ‘street’ homeless. Computers in Human Behavior, 27:296-303.

Literature Update

A recent paper showing that presentation of contextual aversive stimuli in a virtual environment can trigger real levels of anxiety. Not really anything new, as anyone who already played a "shoot-them-all" videogame already experienced this. But still, it is somehow quantified here. As well, it is an interesting example of multimodality in virtual spaces, since the subjects were asked to do a spatial orientation task at the same time (even if it could be noted that the spatial orientation task here was really over-simplified ... maybe it was more of a basic locomotor-like task than a real orientation task). So the two modalities concerned were cognitive: spatial and emotional ...

Maïano C, Therme P, Mestre D (2011) Affective, anxiety and behavioral effects of an aversive stimulation during a simulated navigation task within a virtual environment: A pilot study. Computers in Human Behavior, 27:169-175.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Literature Update

A very interesting paper, showing that multimodal processing (in this case, visual aspect (facial features) and movement) occurs in something as important as facial recognition. Something to think about: a nice experimental design, an interesting question in the general psychology of perception, and a clever use of 3D tools.

Pilz KS, Vuong QC, Bülthoff HH, Thorton IM (2001) Walk this way: Approaching bodies can influence the processing of faces. Cognition, 118:17-31.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Comment: Virtual Spaces, Virtual Worlds, and Embodiment

Just some thoughts, and some definitions ... We use and talk about a lot of different fancy words, which relate to even fancier concepts ... But it somehow seems that we often fail to really define these concepts. In a field such as cyberpsychology, which not only borders other different fields (psychology, linguistics, AI, ...), but is also undergoing an amazingly fast evolution, definitions are important. But then, they do trap us as well, so they probably can not be absolute. Anyway, here are some notions with which we are playing: virtual space: any environment which does not have a physical reality (well, and even that does not make sense, as the virtual space is usually stored somewhere in servers ... but you got the idea); virtual world: a virtual space which presents a visual interface strong enough to support a certain degree of autonomy of the avatar (the "embodied" representation of an agent) and a certain degree of internal coherence; embodiement: the process in which a human can "put himself into an avatar", to "appropriate" the virtual body (in "lay words", just watch (again) the movie "Avatar" to get a better idea of what I am talking about!). So, World of Warcraft or Second Life are virtual worlds. Facebook or a blog (for example, this amazingly good blog) are virtual spaces. So, instinctively, one will say that you can have an embodiment process in a virtual world ... but what about getting embodied in a simple virtual space? Well, probably you can as well, at least to some extent. Your Facebook page is part of your ... but not fully you (even if several excellent studies address the level of self-disclosure in social networks or webpages). A blog becomes an "extension" of your (if I were not a scientist (and thus, already insane), I would ask myself about my level of sanity, as I am obviously doing a blog). More seriously, this simple consideration questions the notion of embodiment, or, more exactly, of the virtual body. And that has implications for the way we study human behaviors in virtual spaces.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Literature Update

Some very interesting recently published results on gender-based differences in behavior in virtual environments … Well, I assume the title of the article has been carefully chosen to elicit strong controversies (“Even in virtual environments women shop and men build” … look, girls, I did not choose it, so no need to complain to me!). More seriously, this paper is easy to read, with straight to the point conclusions. Another very recent paper on an other facet of the same topic: are there differences in online support groups for prostate cancer (obviously: men), and breast cancer (obviously: female)? Well, you guessed it … yes there are some! Specifically, in the way the information is presented. Now, that does not mean it is necessarily what the readers of the support groups expected (it can be what the support group administrators tought was appropriated), but still, it is an interesting point overall …

Guadagno RE, Muscanell NL, Okdie BM, Burk NM, Ward TB (2011) Even in virtual environments women shop and men build: A social role perspective on Second Life. Computers in Human Behavior, 24:304-308.
Blank TO, Schmidt SD, Vangsness SA, Monteiro AK, Santagata PV (2010) Differences among breast and prostate cancer online support groups. Computers in Human Behavior, 26:1400-1404.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Literature Update

3D visualisation is very important for understanding human anatomy, particularly when working with a structure as complex as the human auditory system. One of my very good friends, Frédéric Venail, recently published some nice work showing that the use of 3D anatomical software for the learning of temporal bone anatomy by first year undergraduate students in speech therapy or hearing aid practitioner courses can significantly increase the efficiency of the teaching provided by the professor. A paper which combines my love for the biological aspects of perception, and my love for virtual environments (and my love for teaching to first year undergraduates????).

Venail F, Deveze A, Lallemant B, Guevara N, Mondain M (2010) Enhancement of temporal bone anatomy learning with computer 3D rendered imaging software. Med Teach, 32:e282-288.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Research Update: Life of the Avatars

To begin this blog and this new year, just a small update on a very good paper (ok, I may be a bit biased) that we published a few months ago. This paper deals with a field of cyberbehavior in which I have a special interest: the multimodal aspects of avatar embodiement process ... and in this paper, we show that this multimodal process begins as early as the avatar creation. We analyzed the name structure of socially active avatars of the MMORPG World of Warcraft (should I REALLY explain what World of Warcraft is?) as a function of their visual aspect. What we discovered was most surprising, and most interesting: for female avatars, we observed a clear hyper-feminization of the name of the avatars that are farthest way from ressembling the standard visual aspect of a female human. In other words, there is a compensation between name structure and visual aspect of avatars.

Guitton MJ (2010) Cross-modal compensation between name and visual aspect in socially active avatars. Computers in Human Behavior, 26:1772-1776.