A method for collecting and interpreting interpersonal behavioral data in Second Life: A sample study on Asians’, Blacks’, and Whites’ social distances


In this paper, we describe a method for collecting and interpreting interpersonal behavioral data in the Virtual World, Second Life. To illustrate this method we provide details for the implementation of a study on social distances between Black, White, and Asian participants in Second Life. Participants’ avatars were fitted with a virtual object containing a computer script that recorded their coordinates on the Second Life grid at one-second intervals. Participants interacted at a social event in a controlled environment in Second Life for 15 minutes. A computer algorithm (developed for this study in the statistical analysis program, R) was used to calculate each participant’s average social distance from one another across the 15-minute event. Average social distance scores were then aggregated into social distance towards racial groups as a whole (i.e., each participants’ social distance towards Blacks, Whites, and Asians). This paper provides details for researchers interested in adopting or modifying our Virtual World method for interpersonal behavioral data collection and interpretation. Specifically we focus on the development of a controlled Second Life environment, the adaptation of a Second Life computer script (adapted from Yee & Bailenson, 2008), the computer algorithm for calculating social distances, and our methods for recruiting and conducting study trials.

Second Life; virtual world; social distance; interpersonal behavioral data
Author biographies

John Tawa

Author photo John Tawa, MA is a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. His primary research focus is on inter-group psychology with an emphasis on Black and Asian social relations. As secondary research goals, he is interested in the development of innovative research methods and interdisciplinary approaches to the social sciences.

Assawin Gongvatana

Author photo Win Gongvatana, PhD is a neuropsychologist with research interest involving brain dysfunction associated with HIV infection, alcohol and substance use, and other comorbid conditions.

Marcos Anello

Author photo Marcos Anello is an independent Web Developer and IT Consultant. With over 20 years experience he has specialized in web programming and database development, followed with a strong IT background in networking, hardware, and software applications.

Uma Shanmugham

Author photo Uma Shanmugham is a Masters in Counseling student at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. Her main field of interest is cross-cultural counseling and global mental health, with a strong emphasis on intergenerational trauma and the link between the trauma response and resiliency in various cultural groups. In the past, she has participated in research looking at the effects of social markers, such as membership in a particular racial group, and social distance and perceptions of self and others. She was also involved in an independent study on the Sri Lankan conflict, focusing on the political manipulation of cultural differences to mask power ambitions of both the Sinhalese and Tamil political leaders.

Timothy Lee-Chuvala

Author photo Timothy Lee-Chuvala is a classical guitarist and music educator in the greater Boston area. His involvement in Second Life began as a component of a class in instructional design and as a research assistant to Dr. David Patterson. Their research focused primarily on how to augment traditional online classes with interactive social networking. He works part-time as administrator for the University of Massachusetts Boston Second Life project.

Karen L. Suyemoto

Author photo Karen L. Suyemoto, PhD is an Associate Professor in Psychology and Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her research and teaching focus generally on issues related to social justice and anti-racist therapy, research, and education, with a focus on racialized identities, meanings of race and ethnicity, and resisting oppression. Dr. Suyemoto has served as the Co-Director of the New England Center for Inclusive Teaching, provided consultation and training on anti-racist therapy and education both locally and nationally, and is the Past President of the Asian American Psychological Association.

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