I rather belatedly got around to reading the latest issue of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research this week, and, among a number of interesting articles, one in particular caught my eye. Who am I – and if so, where? A Study on Personality in Virtual Realities, by Benjamin Gregor Aas, Katharina Meyerbröker and Paul M. G. Emmelkamp, reports on a Dutch study looking at the question “How stable are personality traits when entering a virtual reality?” (This was an issue I identified as worth investigating back in the early days of this blog, though of course I never did anything about it).
The authors recruited 57 psychology undergraduates at the University of Amsterdam, and got them to sign up to Second Life (interestingly, only two of them already had accounts). They then had them complete an in-world version of a standard personality inventory, and compared the outcomes with the results generated when the same students took the test on paper, 7 months previously, during their induction.
The headline result was that the test results were stable over the two settings; the personality traits of the participants did not vary between the real world and the virtual world. This was true over all of the five dimensions measured by the test – extraversion, friendliness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and development.
This result is at once encouraging and depressing. Encouraging because, as the authors note, it suggests that “virtual realities could function as new reliable platforms to assess participants for psychological research”, and depressing because it implies that, however much we dream of liberating a new personality in the virtual world, our old selves will always catch us up.