Social Presence in Virtual World Interviews

Social Presence in Virtual World Interviews

Elizabeth Dean (RTI International, USA), Joe Murphy (RTI International, USA) and Sarah Cook (RTI International, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3673-6.ch008
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Social presence varies from low, to moderate, to high in self-administered, telephone, and face-to-face survey interviews. New communication technologies add another layer of survey modes that can be understood along the same spectrum of social presence. Virtual worlds like Second Life are rapidly becoming popular environments for testing theories of social and economic behavior. Researchers who use Second Life as a data collection platform must consider the extent to which existing social theories hold in virtual environments. This study tests the hypothesis that indicators of interviewers’ social presence observed in real world survey environments persist in virtual environments with avatar interviewers and respondents. Results from data quality indicators provide tentative support for the hypothesis.
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Survey modes vary according to communication technology and presentation format. Surveys are administered via paper, telephone, and web, and can be self-administered or interviewer-administered, or a combination of both. All of the types of technology listed above have been used to present surveys in visual, auditory, or mixed format. Additionally, surveys vary by the extent of social presence in the interview setting from no social presence in a self-administered survey to high social presence in an in-person interviewer-administered survey. A persistent question in survey research is the extent to which social presence in the interview setting is desired.

The concept of social presence, a type of presence, or telepresence, has been the subject of much exploration (Lombard & Jones, 2007). It has been defined broadly as “a sense of being with another” (Biocca, Harms, & Burgoon, 2003, p. 456) and more specifically as “a psychological state in which virtual (para-authentic or artificial) social actors are experienced as actual social actors in either sensory or nonsensory ways” (Lee, 2004, p. 37). Biocca, Harms, and Burgoon (2003) assert that the internet is an inherently social place where applications and environments are designed to increase social presence.

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