The identity shift effect may not extend to virtual reality environments

A virtual reality experience may not be enough to induce an identity shift in people, according to new research published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

“I am interested in how interactive technologies, such as video games and virtual reality systems, can be used to influence people’s beliefs and behaviors,” said study author Jorge Peña, an associate professor and director of the Virtual Interaction & Communication Technology (VICTR) lab at the University of California, Davis.

“Thus, I became interested in the identity shift effect, which predicts that presenting the self in online public venues (e.g., social media, blogs, etc.) influences people to behave in line with their public persona.”

In the study, 228 college students completed an assessment of personality and then returned to the lab about one week later, where they were randomly assigned to portray either an extraverted or introverted person while answering questions in a virtual reality classroom. Some participants completed the task in an empty virtual classroom, while others completed the task in a virtual classroom that was full of virtual students.

After their virtual reality experience, the participants again provided ratings of their personality. Based on previous research, Peña and his colleagues expected that people’s identities would shift based on whether they were assigned to act as extraverts or not.

But the participants did not regard themselves as more extraverted after portraying themselves as extraverts in the virtual reality environment.

“Identity shift is an interesting phenomenon that describes how people change based on how they present themselves in public. However, we found no evidence for this phenomenon in a preregistered study that placed people in virtual reality rooms that were either empty or full of people,” Peña told PsyPost.

“More studies are needed to determine the strength of the identity shift effect. Some experimental conditions such as providing individuals with feedback about their online performance seem more reliable in comparison to asking people to portray extraverted or introverted versions of the self.”

The study, “Examining Identity Shift Effects in Virtual Reality“, was authored by Jorge Peña and Dillon Hill.

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