Guadagno, R.E., Blascovich, J., Bailenson, J.N., McCall, C. (2007). Virtual humans and persuasion: The effects of agency and behavioral realism. Media Psychology, 10, 1-22.
Two studies examined whether participant attitudes would change toward positions advocated by an ingroup member even if the latter was known to be an embodied agent; that is, a human-like representation of a computer algorithm. While immersed in a virtual environment, participants listened to a persuasive communication from a digital representation of another student. The latter was actually an embodied agent (a computer-controlled digital representation of a human). Study 1 examined the extent to which gender of the virtual human, participant gender, and the agent’s behavior affected attitude change. Results revealed gender-based ingroup favoritism in the form of greater attitude change for same gender virtual humans. Study 2 examined behavioral realism and agency beliefs; that is, whether participants believed the other to be an agent or an avatar (an online representation of an actual person). Results supported Blascovich and colleague’s model of social influence within immersive virtual environments. Specifically, the prediction that virtual humans high in behavioral realism would be more influential than those low in behavioral realism was supported, but this effect was moderated by the gender of the virtual human and the research participant. Implications of these findings for the model are discussed.