Using virtual reality to make experiments more realistic
Avatars are all around us: they represent real people online and colonize new worlds in the movies. In science, their role has been more limited. But avatars can be extremely useful in linguistics, new research shows. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics use virtual avatars to investigate how real people behave in interaction. The method makes it possible to study with great precision how people adjust to each other in conversation.
An exciting question in psycholinguistics is how people adapt their speech to each other in conversation. The research method of choice has long been the “confederate”: a conversational partner who, without the other participant knowing, has been instructed to speak in certain ways. However, some aspects of speaking cannot be studied in this way, for instance minute changes in speech rate or intonation. Evelien Heyselaar, Peter Hagoort and Katrien Segaert have exchanged the human confederate for a virtual reality avatar, opening up exciting new possibilities for studying the dynamics of dialogue.