Li, B. J., Bailenson, J. N., Ogle, E., & Zaki, J. (in press). Exploring the heart rate as a chronemic cue in virtual settings: How perceptions of consistent and varied heart rates of a storyteller influence self-reported other-arousal, empathy and social presence. Media Psychology.
While the heart rate has been used as a psychophysiological measure in media research, the perception of heart rates may have a considerable influence on individuals. Based on social information processing theory, this paper proposes the heart rate as a chronemic cue in virtual environments, with a varied heart rate accompanying a communicator’s emotional expressions leading to differing perceptions among observers as compared to a consistent one. In a pilot study, 44 participants watched a recording of a virtual human telling an emotional story and either saw it without any accompanying heart rate, a consistent heart rate or a varied one. Results showed that varied heart rate can lead to higher perceived other-arousal, empathy and social presence in observers as compared to a consistent heart rate. Study 2 tested the original hypotheses with a larger sample, and introduced two new conditions which explored the conformity and violations of observer’s expectations of heart rates; specifically if the varied heart rate needs to be in synch with the expressed emotions. Results from 173 participants showed that varied heart rate conditions which conformed to observers’ expectations of heart rate and emotional content lead to higher perceived other-arousal, empathy and social presence.