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When Second Life Comes Knocking: Virtual World Experiences and Personality Effects on Consequences to Real Life

Poppy Lauretta McLeod Jill Freeman Axline Olivia Marie Poglianich Cornell University

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Poppy L. McLeod, Department of Communication, Cornell University, 325 Kennedy Hall, Ithaca, NY 14953, (607) 254-8896, The authors thank Mary Ellen Gordon and David Rowe for extensive assistance in all aspects of this research, and O. Candelario for helpful comments.

When Second Life Comes Knocking: Virtual World Experiences and Personality Effects on Consequences to Real Life

Abstract Three-dimensional immersive virtual environment technologies (IVETs) are a unique combination of computer-mediated communication, entertainment media, and social media. Using arguments derived from cultivation theory and self-presentation theories, hypotheses are developed on the effects of Big-Five personality factors and virtual world experiences (immersion, identification with avatar, and similarity to avatar) on consequences to IVET users real lives. Survey data from 225 users of Second Life were analyzed with structural equation modeling. Results showed that identification and similarity to the avatar most strongly predicted experiencing real life consequences, and that immersion, identification and similarity to the avatar mediated the effects of personality on real life consequences, with two exceptions: Extroversion showed no effects, and Conscientiousness also showed a direct negative effect on experiencing real life consequences. Results are discussed in terms of implications for the role of avatars as mediators of cultivation effects. Keywords: Immersive virtual environment, virtual world, computer-mediated communication, Big-Five personality factors, avatar

One of the fastest growing areas of research in the areas of media and communication technologies is around immersive virtual environment technologies (IVETs). These are Internetbased, massive multiple user applications in which individuals navigate through 3D representations of virtual reality by means of a computer-rendered representation of themselves, known as an avatar. Popular examples of IVET applications include World of Warcraft and Second Life. IVET applications are a unique combination of communication technology, social media, and entertainment media. These systems provide the same affordances of other Internetbased communication technologies such as options for synchronous and asynchronous communication, and choices about ones degree of anonymity. Aspects of social media can be seen in the ability to have a social presence through an avatar and a profile, to form and join different kinds of social networks, and to communicate within those networks. The look and feel of entertainment media come from high quality graphics as well as actual entertainment activities such as live musical performances, art exhibits, or participation in game shows. Given the unique qualities of IVETs and the potential for them to become pervasive, it is of theoretical and practical interest to better understand the effects of this media technology. The current research is concerned with the real life consequences of IVETs on the lives of its users. It has been argued that the immersive nature of these technologies makes users particularly susceptible to the blurring of lines between virtual and real worlds (Boellstorff, 2008; Fetscherin & Lattermann, 2008; Garvey, 2010; Guadagno, et al., 2011). The experience of obscured boundaries between virtual and real experiences could have beneficial consequences such as the potential for individuals to alleviate social anxiety by assuming greater control over their self-presentation (e.g., Caplan, 2007), or to improve communication skills in order to

achieve real life goals (e. g., Barnett & Coulson, 2010). There are also reports, however, that blurred boundaries between the virtual and real worlds result in significant negative effects such as psychological dependency and deficient self-regulation (Liu & Peng, 2009). There is also ample anecdotal evidence about trivial consequences such as changing real life mode of dress or hair color. Naturally, IVET users will be affected to different degrees, if at all. The primary question addressed in this research is, what factors can predict IVETs effects on peoples lives?Using theory derived from studies of computer-mediated communication (CMC) and media effects, we studied how personality factors and virtual world experiences in Second Life predict real life consequences. Effects of Immersive Virtual Environments Research interests in IVETs have centered primarily on questions related to attitudes toward these technologies (e.g., Fetscherin & Lattermann, 2008), psychological factors associated with avatars (e.g., Dunn & Guadagno, 2012; Nowak, & Rauh, 2008), and the nature of interpersonal interaction and collaboration within these environments (e.g., Bailenson et al., 2003; Evans, 2012). Despite a fair amount of interest in long term effects of IVETs on users, (e.g., Schroeder, 2006) there has been to date little empirical evidence published about this issue. A number of scholars have raised concerns about potential negative effects of these technologies, such as social isolation and idleness (Castronova & Wagner, 2011), increased aggressiveness (Persky & Blascovich, 2007) and more dangerous effects on cognitive and emotional functioning resulting from compulsive and addictive Internet use (Douglas, et al., 2008; Griffiths, 2000). Meanwhile, however, the bulk of the empirical evidence we do have reaches optimistic conclusions about these technologies real life effects. Salzman, et al., (1999)

demonstrated that the technological affordances of IVETs (e.g., embodied social presence) facilitate processes of learning complex, abstract concepts. Further, Andreas et al. (2010) found that IVETs can be effective in fostering collaborative learning. Most of this evidence about IVET effects is derived from case studies, so much of the evidence we have is anecdotal. It thus seems clear that more theoretically derived and systematic data about long term effects of IVETs are needed, and the research reported here addresses this need. Given that IVETs combine features of social media, entertainment media and CMC, we rely on theoretical traditions guiding research in those areas to develop the hypotheses we test. Our research focuses on three primary IVET experience factors: immersion, identification with ones avatar, and similarity to ones avatar. We use the label Immersion to incorporate the concepts of perceiving virtual objects as actual objects (Lee, 2004), of feeling physically embodied and socially present in the environment (Biocca et al., 2003; Witmer & Singer, 1998), of having the perceptual illusion that the experience is non-mediated (Schubert, et al.,2001; Lessiter, et al.,2001) and of being transported into the environment (Green, et al., 2004).We conceptualize Identification with the avatar along the lines of the definition provided by Steen et al. (2006) as users adoption of the avatars epistemic, emotional, and intentional states by integrating the avatars goals, obstacles, and resources into [his or her] own planning system (p. 366). Identification includes dimensions of the perceived closeness, attachment, liking, and empathy for the avatar. Finally, similarity to ones avatar refers to the degree of perceived self-resemblance along dimensions of behavior, attitudes, personality, and physical appearance (Evans, 2011; Sirgy, 1982). In the following discussion, we consider two theoretical perspectives to examine how each of these IVET experience factors affects users real life consequences, namely cultivation theory and self-presentation.

Media Effects and Social Media One of the most prominent approaches to the study of media effects is based on cultivation theory (Gerbner et al., 1994).Originally developed to explain and predict widespread effects of television, this theory has also been found to apply to new media, including IVETs (Croucher, 2011; Williams, 2006).The theory is based on the premise that exposure to media affects peoples perceptions of their surrounding reality, their behaviors (Gerbner, et al., 2002), and events in their lives (e.g., Shrum, 1999).Although the theory has been subjected to a variety of criticisms (Shanahan & Morgan, 1999), hypotheses about media effects derived from the theory have received considerable support, including research on new media, and IVETs in particular. For example, Williams (2006) found evidence for cultivation effects among players of a violent immersive video game. The amount of time spent playing affected users perceptions of the prevalence of real world violence. In the current study, we focus on cultivation theorys central hypothesis that exposure to media has long term effects on peoples attitudes and behaviors. We hypothesize that users involvement in Second Life will predict self-reported effects within their real lives. Cultivation and IVET Immersion. One of the main attractions for users of these media is entertainment value; an experience begot by the users perception of immersion into the virtual space. Although immersion is not necessary for people to be entertained by media, a great deal of evidence suggests that this factor strengthens the experience of enjoyment (Barfield & Weghorst, 1993; Green, et al.,), making them more susceptible to continued exposure, increased cultivation effects, and more persistent real life consequences (Bilandzic & Busselle, 2008; Gerbner et al., 2002). Consequently, we propose that immersion in Second Life increases the likelihood of experiencing real world consequences.

Cultivation and Identification with Avatar. Research on traditional media has found that identification with characters can also have lasting effects on media consumers attitudes and behaviors. Emulation of characters behavior (e.g., Feilitzen & Linne, 1975; Hoffner & Buchanan, 2005), making changes to physical appearance (e.g., Mills, et al.,2002), and changes in self-concept (e.g., Sestir & Green, 2010) are some examples. Several researchers have found that a number of factors related to avatar appearance, such as attractiveness and degree of realism (Groom, et al., 2009; Nowak & Biocca, 2001) influence users identification with the avatar and experience of immersion. Fox and Bailenson (2009) found that exposure to female avatars exhibiting highly sexualized behavior and appearance led to increased negative attitudes towards women in real life, among both males and females. We are not aware, however, of any work that has explicitly examined real life consequences of identification with the avatar. Based on a cultivation theory framework, we expect that extent of identification with the avatar in addition to the extent of immersion will predict the extent of experiencing real life effects of IVET use We therefore test the following hypotheses: H1: Immersion into an immersive virtual environment will be positively related to experiencing real life consequences of involvement in the environment.

H2. Identification with ones avatar will be positively related to experiencing real life consequences of involvement in the environment.

Self-presentation and Similarity to Avatar. From the perspective of IVETs as social media, it is theoretically important to consider users motivations related to self-presentation. A

great deal of research attention has been devoted to strategies and effects of impression management through social media such as Facebook profiles, email signatures, and the like. Of particular interest has been the social influence of peoples Internet-constructed impressions (Papacharissi, 2011;Yee & Bailenson, 2009), and the extent of correspondence between those impressions and real life characteristics (Toma & Hancock, 2010; Yee, et al.,2009). Closely related to the questions examined in our research, Trepte and Reinecke (2010) found that avatar similarity is related to the degree of immersion into the environment, level of identification with the avatar, competitiveness of the application, and enjoyment of the experience. There is evidence that for some people, the Internet allows them to express their true selves more easily than they can in their everyday lives (Bargh, et al., 2002) which illustrates that the question of correspondence is often about more than the mere match between surface characteristics such as weight or height. Rather, the choices made in constructing an Internet identity may reveal to the user, as much as reflect to the external world, who the person is with regard to both their physical and psychological identity when situated in different social contexts. We hypothesize that the more one sees the avatar as an expression of ones true self, the more one might bring aspects of everyday life to be in line with characteristics of the avatars virtual life. For example, in Second Life it is possible (and fairly popular) to adopt an animal form as ones avatar, but we would not necessarily expect to see people become more animallike in behavior or appearance in their real lives. It is, however, reasonable to expect that people might imbue such avatars with certain personality characteristics or human-like behaviors that they themselves would increasingly manifest. This also implies that degree of similarity to the avatar will be independent of the degree of identification with the avatar. Whereas someone will

not be physically similar to their dinosaur avatar, he or she might feel a close bond with that avatar. Accordingly, we will test the following hypothesis: H3: Similarity to the avatar will be positively related to experiencing real life consequences of involvement in an immersive virtual environment.

Personality Effects on Virtual Environment Experiences Our second broad interest was how personality might explain users experiences in IVETs. Research, based primarily on the Five Factor Model of personality (Goldberg, 1993; McCrae et al., 2008), has widely found that personality affects usage of Internet technology and media (e.g., Correa, et al., 2010; Landers & Lounsbury, 2006; Yee, et al., 2011). We examined the Big-Five factors as defined by Goldberg (1993), and we also examined the trait SelfMonitoring (Snyder, 1974) because of the importance of self-presentation in social media usage (e.g., Chung, 2005). Brief descriptions of these personality factors are presented in Table 1. We next develop our hypotheses on the effects of these traits on a persons likelihood to a) experience immersion in the environment; b)identify with the avatar; c) be similar to the avatar; and d) experience real life consequences of their virtual world involvement. Personality Effects on Immersion Intellect. The personality factor that has received the most attention in research on virtual environments is trait Absorption (Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974), which has generally been defined in terms of openness to experiencing and tendency to involve in the experience (Wirth et al., 2012, pg. 24). This trait is recognized as closely related Openness to Experience (McCrae, 1994) or Intellect (Goldberg, 1993). Although it has generally been hypothesized that the predisposition

toward becoming absorbed would be positively related to feelings of immersion and presence in mediated environments, the empirical evidence in support of this hypothesis has been mixed (Sacau et al., 2008), with some studies finding support for the hypothesis, (e.g., Sas & OHare, 2003; Wirth et al., 2012; Witmer & Singer, 1998), and others finding no evidence for a relationship (e.g., Murray et al., 2007). Sacau et al. (2008) nominated methodological differences as the most likely explanation for these discrepancies, but also noted the overall volume of available evidence is low. Despite the ambiguity in the current empirical research, we believe that it is consistent with the conceptual definition of Intellect to expect a positive relationship between this personality factor and experience of immersion in an IVET application. Extroversion. There is likewise mixed evidence for a relationship between Extroversion and experience of immersion. For example, Laarni et al. (2004), found that extroverts reported greater experience of presence than did introverts; their explanation was that immersion involves both physical presence and the possibility of action within a virtual environment. But AlsinaJurnet and Maldonado (2010) on the other hand found that introverts were more likely to experience immersion, possibly because the environment gave introverts more control over the pace of interaction than is usual in their face-to-face environments, and because introverts greater ability to suppress distractions allowed them to focus more intently on the virtual environment. Given the inconsistencies in the theoretical reasoning and empirical evidence, we will present a research question rather than a directional hypothesis about the relationship of Extroversion to immersion. Emotional Stability. The empirical evidence relative to the effects of Emotional Stability on immersion is scant. Laarni et al., (2004) argued that low stability is associated with a greater tendency to be distracted, thus leading to lower experience of immersion, but they did not find


any effects of this personality factor on immersion. Bouchard et al., (2008) and Alsina-Jurnet and Gutirrez-Maldonado (2010) found that state anxiety was positively related to immersion, but they did not measure trait Neuroticism. In contrast to the reasoning put forward by Laarni et al., (2004), we argue that the vulnerability, moodiness and impulsivity characteristic of Neuroticism (Costa & McCrae, 1986; McCrae & Costa, 1987) implies that people high in this trait are more likely to take to heart things that occur in the virtual environment, and to have a greater feeling of virtual events happening to their real selves. Further, because people high in Emotional Stability generally have greater independence between their emotional state and events in their surroundings we expect a lower experience of immersion as Emotional Stability increases. Agreeableness. The research questions on the role of Agreeableness in virtual environments have centered on interpersonal factors such as teamwork and leadership (e.g., Hertel et al., 2005), or on avatar characteristics (to be discussed below). As of this writing, we are unaware of studies that have examined specifically the effect of Agreeableness on immersion. Given that Agreeableness is associated with empathy, warmth and general liking for other people, it seems reasonable to expect this trait to be positively associated with immersion in an IVET application such as Second Life where the content reflects the presence and interests of other people. It is reasonable to expect that people high in Agreeableness would be attracted to and absorbed by an environment that offers high exposure to other people. Conscientiousness. We are similarly unaware of any empirical evidence concerning the effects of Conscientiousness on immersion. In addition to the traits of carefulness and organization, this personality factor also incorporates concern about observing conventions and


adhering scrupulously to a moral code (McCrae & Costa, 1987). We argue that this orientation toward morality and correctness of behavior would lead people high in Conscientiousness to be concerned about protecting their real life environments from negative effects ensuing from their virtual world involvement. They might thus be expected to be vigilant against getting carried away by events happening in the virtual world, which would tend to reduce their experience of immersion. Self-Monitoring. Finally, Self-Monitoring has also not been studied for its effects on the experience of immersion and presence in IVETs, but we believe there are reasonable arguments to expect this factor to predict immersion. Because this trait involves the desire and ability to adjust behavior according to the social surroundings (Day et al., 2002; Gangestad & Snyder, 2000), we expected that the need to monitor the virtual environment for cues of appropriate behavior would lead to attention and absorption into the environment. We will test the following with respect to personality effects on the experience of immersion: RQ1: Does Extroversion predict immersion? H4a: Agreeableness will be positively related to immersion. H4b: Intellect will be positively associated with immersion. H4c: Self-Monitoring will be positively associated with immersion. H5a: Conscientiousness will be negatively associated with immersion. H5b: Emotional Stability will be negatively associated with immersion.


Personality Effects on Identification with the Avatar We expect all of the personality factors, to affect the extent of identification with the avatar, with the exception of Extroversion. We argue that extroverts and introverts would be equally likely to identify with their avatars, but perhaps for different reasons. For example, extroverts may identify with their avatars as an extension of their real life social persona, whereas introverts identification may be related to the avatars role in providing them greater control over the pacing of social interactions. Agreeableness. We expected Agreeableness to predict identification with the avatar based on reasoning similar to that we used to argue that it would predict immersion. The overall disposition associated with high Agreeableness would lead toward liking and attraction toward the avatar. Moreover, Agreeableness is likely to be reflected in the avatars behavior (Dunn & Guadagno, 2012; Sung et al., 2011; Yee, et al., 2011), which would provoke reinforcing responses from the avatars of other people (Kang et al., 2008; Yee & Bailenson, 2007). Conscientiousness and Emotional Stability. Again we use reasoning comparable to our prediction for the effects of these factors on immersion. We argue that maintaining psychological distance from the avatar is a way for people high in Conscientiousness to prevent negative effects reaching their material lives, and thus we expect that this factor will be negatively related to identification with the avatar. We also expected identification with avatars to be lower among people with high Emotional Stability because of their higher degree of emotional independence from the avatars experiences in the virtual environment. An additional rationale is based on research evidence that people high in Neuroticism are more likely to find expression of their


true selves through Internet than face-to-face communication (Amichai-Hamburger, et al., 2002), and this may lead them to greater identification with their avatar. Intellect and Self-Monitoring. We expect both Intellect and Self-Monitoring to predict identification with the avatar. In contrast to Conscientiousness, the traits of curiosity and openness associated with the Intellect factor are associated with a willingness to allow permeable boundaries between different facets of ones life (McCrae, 1994), and thus in addition to being receptive to immersion in the environment, we expect people high in Intellect also to be more psychologically merged with the avatar. We expected that Self-Monitoring would be associated with a high degree of attention to ones avatar. For example, Chung (2005) found that selfmonitors purchases of cyber products for their avatars were driven by motivations related to image enhancement. We reasoned that high self-monitors would take care with the avatars appearance and behavior in order to convey appropriate impressions to others in the environment, and that a high degree of identification with the avatar would result. We test the following hypotheses: H6a: Agreeableness will be positively associated with identification with the avatar. H6b: Intellect will be positively associated with identification with the avatar. H6c: Self-Monitoring will be positively associated with identification with the avatar. H7a; Emotional Stability will be negatively associated with identification with the avatar. H7b: Conscientiousness will be negatively associated with identification with the avatar.


Personality Effects on Similarity to the Avatar Person-avatar similarity in terms of appearance, behavior and personality, is one of the largest areas of interest in the research on IVETs (e.g., Aas, et al., 2010; Dunn & Guadagno, 2012; McCreery et al., 2012; Sutanto et al., 2011). One conclusion that can be drawn from this literature is that people are more similar than dissimilar to their avatars, on the average. Differences in the degree of similarity have been found to be associated with the kind of virtual environment or goals for involvement in the environment (e.g., Vasalou & Joinson, 2009) , and with personality (Amichai-Hamburger et al., 2002; Dunn & Guadagno, 2012). In most cases, differences are in the direction of imbuing avatars with more desirable characteristics. Our review of previous research combined with conceptual reasoning led us to expect Extroversion, Conscientiousness and Emotional Stability to predict similarity to the avatar. We do not expect Agreeableness or Self-Monitoring to predict similarity to the avatar because although those personality factors would lead to the expectation of creating avatars that would be attractive to others, we do not think that would necessarily mean creating an avatar that is similar to oneself. We did not expect Intellect to predict avatar similarity because we believe that this trait would be associated with likelihood to explore the range of possibilities in avatar customization, but that this exploration would not result in avatars that would necessarily be either very similar or very dissimilar from the user. Extroversion. Consistent with our earlier argument relative to effects on immersion, we argue that because IVET programs are essentially social environments, extroverts interactions in these environments will be parallel to their interactions in their real world environments, but this will be less true for introverts. Further, extroversion is socially desirable and as found by Dunn


and Guadagno (2010) more discrepancy would be seen among introverts because their avatars would be expected to show characteristics toward the more desirable pole. We therefore expect that extroverts will tend to be more similar to their avatars than would be introverts. Conscientiousness. We argue that consistent with adherence to a moral code and correct behavior, Conscientiousness would also be associated with a forthright self-presentation. This implies a high degree of person-avatar similarity. In support of this reasoning, we cite Dunn and Guadagnos (2012) findings that the more conscientious a participant was, the more they thought their avatar resembled their own likeness (pg. 103). Emotional Stability. Consistent with the arguments we presented related to Extroversion, there is also evidence that Internet media offer people low in Emotional Stability a way to express the real self (Amichai-Hamburger et al., 2002).We reasoned that this real self would be created to be less neurotic, and thus we expect similarity to the avatar to increase as Emotional Stability increases. Empirical evidence relative to this expectation is not straightforward, however. Dunn and Guadagno (2012) found that Neuroticism interacted with gender such that neurotic females created avatars more physically attractive than themselves and neurotic men created avatars less physically attractive than themselves. We will test the following hypotheses: H8a: Extroversion will be positively associated with similarity to the avatar. H8b: Conscientiousness will be positively associated with similarity to the avatar. H8c: Emotional Stability will be positively associated with similarity to the avatar.


Direct Effects of Personality on Real Life Consequences We expect that Conscientiousness and Emotional Stability will have direct effects on real life consequences in addition to their indirect effects through immersion, identification with the avatar and similarity to the avatar. We believe that the central emotional and regulatory function served by these two factors (Costa & McCrae, 1986; McCrae & Costa, 1991) will exert an overarching influence over emotional and cognitive processing of events. The greater degree of impulsiveness, vulnerability and temperamentality associated with low Emotional Stability will lead to a greater degree of effects on real life, when controlling for effects related to the three IVET experience factors. Analogously, the strong inhibitory orientation associated with high Conscientiousness will be associated with avoidance of consequences to the real world to a degree beyond that explained solely by the three IVET experience factors. We therefore present the following hypotheses: H9a: Emotional Stability will be negatively associated with real life consequences. H9b: Conscientiousness will be negatively associated with real life consequences. Method The data were collected through two on-line surveys of users of the IVET application, Second Life. Participants first completed the survey containing the items regarding their experiences in Second Life, and two months later participants who completed this first survey were invited to take the second survey which contained the personality measures.


Participants and Procedure Participants were recruited through a market research firm specializing in virtual world data.1 This firm maintains a panel of individuals who have volunteered to take part in research studies, and the firm recruits participants for specific studies from this panel, using researchers sampling criteria. As a standard part of belonging to the panel, participants agreed to furnish basic information about their real life identity, which includes sex, age, occupation and country of residence, but not their real names. Invitations were sent to 1093 U. S. based2 members of the panel to participate in an on-line survey on Second Life and You, in exchange for compensation of 500 Linden dollars, the currency used in Second Life (approximately $2.50 U.S.).Three-hundred surveys were returned for an initial response rate of 27%. Two months following the launch of the first survey, invitations were sent to these individuals to participate in a Personality Survey, in exchange for compensation of 500 Linden dollars. These participants were not told that the two surveys were linked. Two hundred twenty-five of these surveys were returned, for a response rate of 75% on the second survey. Two surveys were removed from the final data set because the respondents reported their real life age as being under 18. The final sample thus contained 223 participants for an overall study response rate of 20%. The real life age of the participants ranged from 18 to 71 with a mean of 35.71; 53.8% were female.

1 2

Market Truths Ltd; Our decision to limit the sample to U. S. residents was designed to control for the interaction between national culture and personality (e.g., Grimm & Church, 1999). We do not, however, have data on how many of our respondents may have been expatriates.


Survey Instruments The first survey contained items we developed to measure the four constructs of immersion, identification with the avatar, similarity to the avatar and real life consequences; these items are displayed in Table 1. Participants were asked if they used more than one avatar to answer with respect to the one they considered their principal avatar. The items were formatted as Likert scales with responses ranging from 1 = Strongly Disagree to 5 = Strongly Agree. The reliabilities for each of these scales were = 0.70 for immersion (10 items); = 0.77 for identification with the avatar (5 items); = 0.77 for similarity to the avatar (11 items), and = 0.86 for real life consequences (10 items). Summed response scales were used in the analyses. Also included in this survey were items related to real life occupation, motivations for joining Second Life, and the amount of time spent and their activities within Second Life. Given the page limitations of this paper, we have elected to omit the data related to the moderating effects of these latter variables on the model we tested. We will, however, offer a brief discussion of these variables in a later section on future research directions. The second survey contained all the personality measures. We assessed the Big-Five personality factors with Goldbergs personality inventory (Goldberg, 1993; Goldberg, et al., 2006). We used the version with 10-items per factor with response scales ranging from 1 = Strongly Disagree to 5 = Strongly Agree. Our observed reliabilities were comparable to those published by Goldberg (1999): = 0.87 for Extroversion; = 0.80 for Agreeableness; = 0.78 for Conscientiousness; = 0.89 for Emotional Stability; and = 0.80 for Intellect. We measured Self-Monitoring with a 13-item scale developed by Lenox and Wolfe (1984), a revision of the original Snyder (1974) scale, also measured on 5-point response scales. They reported a


Cronbachs alpha of 0.75, and we observed = 0.85 in our sample. The summed scale scores for all these factors were used in the analyses. No other measures were included in the second survey. Results We combined the hypotheses into a single structural model, diagrammed in Figure 1. The specific hypotheses relating to the personality variables are represented by the text boxes, grouped according to whether the direction of the hypothesized effects is negative or positive. For example, the diagram indicates that positive effects on Immersion are predicted for, Agreeableness, Intellect and Self-Monitoring, and negative effects for Conscientiousness and Emotional Stability. We evaluated the model using PASW-AMOS v. 21, and the parameters were estimated using the maximum likelihood method. Amos permits the input of raw data, from which it computes correlation and covariance matrices to use for estimating the model parameters. Table 2 presents the zero-order correlations among all the variables, the sample means and standard deviations, and reliability measures for each factor. Table 3 presents the summary statistics for the overall tests of the hypothesized baseline model. As recommended, we report multiple indexes of model fit (e.g., Hu & Bentler, 1999; MacCallum & Austin, 2000).The initial model provided a poor fit to the data. First, the 2 value was 184.78 (df = 21, p <.001). Because the chi-square statistic has been found to be sensitive to sample size (Bollen, 1989), we also report the ratio 2/df, which is 8.80; ratios of < 5 are indicators of good fit for the sample size, and thus both of these indicators of overall fit were unacceptable. The descriptive indexes likewise confirmed poor fit: the Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI)


was .00, well below Hu and Bentlers (1999) recommended cutoff of .95; the comparative fit index (CFI) was .53, also very far from the recommendation of .95; finally, the root mean square error approximation (RMSEA) was 0.19, well above the recommended cutoff of .06. In order to improve the model, we first examined the parameter estimates in order to eliminate non-significant paths. Table 4 presents the coefficients for the baseline model. We eliminated the non-significant paths as indicated by the notation provided in the Table. For example, the data showed no relationships related to Extroversion; therefore these were among the paths we deleted. The resulting fit statistics following this step are summarized in Table 3 as Revision #1. A considerable improvement in the model resulted, with the fit statistics all falling very close to the recommended acceptable ranges. Finally, we examined the possible paths that could be theoretically justified to add to the model, guided by fit modification indices provided in AMOS. First, the fit index analysis suggested that adding a path predicting similarity to the avatar from Self-Monitoring would improve the model fit. We had argued that Self-Monitoring would be associated with attention to the avatars appearance, which would induce identification with the avatar, but not necessarily similarity to the avatar. We nonetheless believe that it is reasonable to consider that such attention would also lead to greater similarity to the avatar and hence we added this path to the revised model. Moreover, as indicated in Table 4, the hypothesized relationship between SelfMonitoring and identification with the avatar did not obtain. Second, we had not included any paths modeling the covariance between the personality factors. The modification indices suggest that adding some of these covariances would improve the model fit. We examined carefully the suggested additions against our baseline model, and added covariance paths between those personality factors for which we had hypothesized similar relationships to the endogenous


variables, namely between Conscientiousness and Emotional Stability; Agreeableness and SelfMonitoring; Intellect and Self-Monitoring; Extroversion and Agreeableness; Agreeableness and Intellect; and Extroversion and Self- Monitoring. The summary statistics for this model are presented in Table 2 as the Final Model. The fix indices of this final model all fall within the recommended ranges suggesting that the adjusted model provides a good fit to the data. Figure 2 presents the standardized parameter estimates for this model. Our final model shows that as hypothesized, immersion (H1), identification with the avatar (H2) and similarity to the avatar (H3) all significantly predicted experiencing real life consequences, and that the two factors related to avatars more strongly predicted effects than did overall immersion. We found no significant effects of Extroversion. Our expectation that Agreeableness would significantly affect identification with the avatar (H6a) was supported, but not our hypothesis regarding immersion (H4a). We found no support for the hypothesized effect of Conscientiousness on identification with the avatar (H7b), but the effect on similarity to the avatar was marginally significant (p = .07), offering weak support for H8b. Moreover, the effects of Conscientiousness were not completely mediated by the virtual world experience factors, and the predicted direct effect on real life consequences also obtained (H9b). Emotional Stability predicted low immersion and low identification with the avatar, in support of H5b and H7a, respectively, but H8c was not supported in that no relationship with similarity to the avatar was found. Our expectation of a direct relationship of Emotional Stability on real life consequences was not found (H9a). Intellect showed the expected positive relationship to identification with the avatar (H6b), but no relationship with immersion. Finally, completely contrary to our


expectations we observed a significant positive effect of Self-Monitoring on similarity to the avatar, but no effect identification with the avatar, nor any effect on immersion (H4c). Discussion The findings from this study suggest that peoples experiences in an IVET affect their lives beyond the boundaries of the virtual world, and that these effects are primarily centered around avatars. Identification with and similarity to the avatar accounted for much more of the variance in perceptions of real life consequences that did experiencing immersion. Moreover, most of the variance in effects of personality was accounted for by the avatar-related factors. These findings are consistent with other research that points to the central role of avatars in mediating peoples experiences in immersive environments and beyond (e.g., Jin, 2010; Jin & Park, 2009; Steen, et al., 2006). We believe that our finding of stronger effects of avatars relative to the effects of immersion on experiences beyond the virtual environment can be explained by considering the role of narrative in media cultivation effects. Second Life, in contrast to an IVET such as World of Warcraft, does not have a built-in narrative. The World of Warcraft narrative contains rudimentary elements related to overcoming challenges in order to meet an objective, whereas any narrative elements contained within Second Life are those put there by users, and those narratives are created for and through avatars. In Second Life, therefore, avatars are the narrative. Though people may experience immersion in that environment (Schubert et al., 2001; Witmer & Singer, 1998), their avatars are the source of the stories that follow them once they power off their screens. We suggest that the real life effects of peoples experiences with their avatars are analogous to the effects of narrative in traditional media. Moreover, these effects can also be


thought of as IVET-specific in that they can be differentiated from media like television, movies, and social media where usage does not require an avatar interface. A question for future research is whether this difference in the effects of avatars and immersion would be found in IVETs that are designed around set narrative elements. Our findings with respect to personality largely reinforce previous findings, and provide some new data. The results that immersion and identification with the avatar decrease as Emotional Stability increases add to the growing body of literature suggesting an affinity for Internet communication among people who exhibit a variety of traits, such as social anxiety, that have a general association with Neuroticism (e.g., Bargh et al., 2002; Bouchard et al., 2008; Caplan, 2007; Charlton & Danforth, 2010; Skues et al., 2012). On the other hand, our data do not show any support for the arguments that introverts are more likely than extroverts to be immersed in IVETs (e.g., Amichai-Hamburger et al., 2002). Similarly, although we did find that Intellect predicted identification with the avatar, we found no evidence that this trait predicted immersion. As mentioned earlier, the empirical findings have been mixed with respect to the effects of trait absorption -- closely related to Intellect -- and immersion. There is some suggestion that the nature of the technology itself may account for these differences (Sacau et al., 2008).For example, Murray et al. (2007), who found no effect on immersion, studied an immersive virtual environment whereas Sas and OHare (2003), who did find that trait absorption predicted immersion, studied a non-immersive virtual environment. Despite the inconclusiveness in the research to date, we believe it makes theoretical and intuitive sense to expect that traits such as imagination, tendency for absorption and openness to experience would be related to the likelihood to experience presence in an immersive environment. As more data


accumulate, researchers will be better able to account for the impact of methodological variations across studies. We offer some new findings with respect to Conscientiousness. Considerable research attention has been focused on this factor in the organizational psychology literature (e.g., Hogan & Ones, 1997), and our data show its potential importance as a factor in immersive virtual technology usage. Young and Whitty (2010) and Whitty, et al., (2011) examine peoples ability to separate virtual from real life experiences when violations of moral codes are involved. They do not discuss the role of Conscientiousness, but our data, especially our finding that its effects on real life consequences were not mediated solely by virtual world experiences, suggest that this trait could be one of the factors that account for individual differences in the ability to maintain separation between the different worlds. A promising and important direction for future research would be to examine the virtual behaviors across a spectrum of morality and how these are affected by Conscientiousness. Our findings with respect to Agreeableness build on results reported by Kang et al. (2008) that this trait was associated with feelings of rapport when interacting with both real human and virtual humans who acted agreeably. Our study showed that this positive disposition toward virtual beings could extend to users own avatars. Finally, we believe our unexpected finding that Self-Monitoring predicted avatar similarity, but not identification with the avatar might be explained as follows. Identifying with ones avatar is an individual experience not apparent to others, whereas the avatars appearance is apparent and is what will determine others reactions. Because high self-monitors already have a good idea of how people respond to their own appearance, and because control over the image they present is important, (Day et al.,


2002; Gangestad & Snyder, 2000) modeling avatars after themselves may give them reliable expectations of how others will react to the avatar. Limitations and Future Research First, the direction of causality and the assumption linearity in the model we tested are major questions to consider. Although we are on firm ground in modeling the personality factors as exogenous variables, and we feel confident that the virtual world experience variables must precede real life consequences of those experiences, we also recognize that the consequences that users experience in their lives will eventually affect their perceptions and experiences in the virtual environment. For example, it could be equally likely that people change their avatar to more closely resemble their real life selves as they change their physical selves to resemble the avatar. It would be important in future research to examine the nature of this directionality. Second our data do not differentiate between positive and negative consequences. The basis for our hypotheses about Conscientiousness, for example, makes assumptions about the nature of consequences that we are not able to test directly in this study. We cannot say whether, or in what ways, our model might differ for positive versus negative consequences, and thus another fruitful direction for research would be to examine that difference. Finally, we have not yet considered in this analysis moderating variables that have been found to be important for understanding users experiences in virtual environments and for predicting cultivation effects, such as the amount of time users spend in the environment and how that time is spent, and other user characteristics such as age and sex (Lee, 2004; Lee & Nass, 2005; Williams, 2006).Fortunately, we do have these data and look forward to sharing them should this paper be accepted for the 2013 ICA meeting.


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Figure 1 Hypothesized Conceptual Model

Immersion +
Extroversion (RQ1) Agreeableness (H4a) Intellect (H4b) Self-Monitoring (H4c) Conscientiousness (H5a) Emotional Stability (H5b) H1

+ Personality
Agreeableness (H6a) Intellect (H6b) Self-Monitoring (H6c)

Emotional Stability (H7a) Conscientiousness (H7b)

ID with Avatar




Extroversion (H8a) Conscientiousness (H8b) Emotional Stability (H8c)

Emotional Stability (H9a) Conscientiousness (H9b)

Similarity to Avatar
Note: RLC = Real Life Consequences 38

Figure 2 Final Model

Model Summary = 26.13, df = 12, p = .07 RMSEA= .05 CFI = .97 TLI =.94

Emotional Stability (-.21**) .18***


Agreeableness (.22***) Emotional Stability (-.18**) Intellect (.20**)

ID with Avatar



.30*** Conscientiousness (.11) Self-Monitoring (.21**)

Conscientiousness (-.14*)

Similarity to Avatar
Note: RLC = Real Life Consequences; RMSEA = root mean square error approximation; CFI = comparative fit index; TLI = Tucker-Lewis Index * p < .05; **p<.01; *** p < .001


Table 1 Second Life Experience Survey Items and Definitions of Personality Factors Second Life Experience Scales Immersion Survey Items
I frequently get involved in activities in SL to the exclusion of RL tasks. I can quickly switch from doing something in SL to doing something in RL. (R) I often get emotionally involved with things happening in SL. I sometimes am so involved with something happening in SL that people in my RL environment have difficulty getting my attention. Even when I am involved in something in SL I am generally aware of what is happening around me in RL. (R) I am not very good at blocking out RL distractions when I am involved in SL. I have become angry or upset by things that have happened in SL. I sometimes get so involved with what I am doing in SL that I lose track of time. Things that happen in SL can put me in a good mood When things happen to my avatar, it feels as though they happen to my RL self. I like my avatar. I feel a close bond with my avatar. Its hard to say where my avatar stops and where my RL self starts. I strongly identify with my avatar.

Identification with Avatar

Similarity to Avatar

My avatar is the same gender as I am in RL. My avatar has similar coloring (skin, hair, and eyes) as I have in RL. My avatar is similar to me in body size, shape, and attractiveness. My avatar behaves the way that I would in similar situations in RL. My avatar participates in the same types of activities as I do in RL.


Table 1 (cont.)
My avatar spends time with avatars whose interests and behavior are similar to those of my RL friends and acquaintances. My avatar frequently responds to people in ways that would be out of character for my RL self. (R) My avatar uses language (vocabulary, grammar, etc.) similarly to the way I do in RL (except for typos in text). People would be unlikely to see much physical similarity between the RL me and my avatar.(R) People would probably not notice much difference in how I behave in RL and how my avatar behaves. My avatar shares most of the strengths and weaknesses of my RL personality. Over the time I have been involved with SL, my physical appearance in RL has come to more closely resemble my avatar. Over the time I have been involved with SL, the types of clothing I wear in RL has come to more closely resemble that worn by my avatar. Over the time I have been involved with SL, my ways of behaving in RLhas come to more closely resemble that of my avatar. Over the time I have been involved with SL, the people I am attracted to in RL have come to more closely resemble those my avatar spends time with in SL. Over the time I have been involved with SL, the way I communicate in RL has come to more closely resemble the way my avatar communicates. Things I have experienced in SL have changed the way I perceive things in RL. Things I have experienced in SL have changed the way I behave in RL. Participating in SL has had a negative effect on my real life. Participating in SL has exposed me to new possibilities for my real life. Participating in SL has helped me discover my true RL self.

Real Life Consequences

Personality Factors Extroversion


talkativeness, assertiveness and activity level versus silence, passivity and reserve kindness, trust, and warmth versus hostility, selfishness and distrust organization, thoroughness, and reliability versus carelessness, negligence, and unreliability

Agreeablenessa Conscientiousnessa


Table 1 (cont.)

Emotional Stabilitya Intellecta Self-Monitoring

a b

relaxed, contented, and steady versus nervousness, moodiness, and temperamentality imagination, curiosity, and creativity versus shallowness and imperceptiveness self-observation and self-control; concern over social appropriateness

Goldberg (1993); b Snyder, (1974)


Table 2 Bivariate correlations, sample means and standard deviations, and factor reliabilities Variables 1. Real Life Consequences 2. Immersion 3. Identification with Avatar 4. Similarity to Avatar 5. Extroversion 6.Agreeableness 7. Conscientiousness 8. Emotional Stability 9. Intellect 10. Self Monitoring M SD Scale Reliability () .42** * 1 2 .32** * 3 .50** * .28** * 4 .39** * .04 .27** * 5 -.04 -.08 .05 6 .12* -.03 .25** * .14* .34** * 7 -.07 -.12* .07 8 .17** .21** -.15* 9 .12* -.09 .25** * .15* .20** .26** * .13* 10 .12* -.04 .15*


.18* .09 .20**

.05 .27** * .19**

.25** * .25** * .36** * .26** * .24** * .32** *


16.15 4.22 0.86

11.60 3.49 0.70

19.88 3.36 0.77

20.48 5.30 0.77

29.77 7.39 0.87

39.62 5.34 0.80

34.06 6.09 0.78

31.84 7.76 0.89

39.87 5.18 0.80

48.19 7.26 0.85

* p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001.


Table 3 Model Summary Statistics Model Baseline Revision #1 Final Model 2 184.78 (df = 21; p <.001) 32.4 (df = 12; p = .001) 26.13 (df = 17; p = .07) 2/df 8.80 2.70 1.54 RMSEA .19 .09 .05 CFI .53 .94 .97 TLI .00 .78 .94

Note: RMSEA = root mean square error approximation; CFI = comparative fit index; TLI = Tucker-Lewis Index


Table 4 Non-standardized Parameter Estimates from Baseline Model

Immersion Immersion Immersion Immersion Immersion Immersion ID w Avatar ID w Avatar ID w Avatar ID w Avatar ID w Avatar Sim. to Avatar Sim. to Avatar Sim. to Avatar Sim. to Avatar Sim. to Avatar RLCons RLCons RLCons RLCons RLCons

Path <--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<--<---

Extroversion Agreeable Conscien Stablility Intellect SeflMon Agreeable Conscien Stablility Intellect SeflMon Intellect Stablility Conscien Extroversion SeflMon Immersion ID w Avatar Sim. to Avatar Conscien Stablility

Estimate -.011 .023 -.023 -.092** -.070 .022 .138*** .053 -.106*** .104* .024 .053 -.057 .135* .075 .137** .215** .473*** .242*** -.083* -.022

SE .032 .047 .041 .033 .046 .036 .041 .038 .030 .042 .032 .068 .049 .062 .047 .052 .067 .072 .044 .041 .033

* p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001 Non-significant paths in italics were deleted in Model Revision #1.