Lomonosov Moscow State University,
Background. Gender differences exist in almost every aspect of our lives. Individuals have an array of different social expectations with regard to behaviors, communication, appearance, attitudes, and social roles, but these expectations tend to be based on whether the individual is male or female. Currently, many social studies have been done with the help of virtual reality technologies. They have been effectively applied to the study of many social phenomena such as nonverbal communication, social skills training, social anxiety rehabilitation, etc. Recently considerable attention has been paid to issue of gender differences during social interaction with the virtual partners, avatars. However, the question of gender differencesduring interactions with avatars of diverse ethnic appearances has seldom been studied.
Objective. The goal of this study was to investigate the gender peculiarities of interaction with avatars of different ethnic appearances. We used the CAVE virtual reality system to study gender differences in interpersonal distances which were maintained with avatars.
Design. We designed four three-dimensional virtual scenes with avatars of four different ethnic appearances. They were avatars of Slavic, Asian, North Caucasian, and African appearance. All the avatars were male. e participants (who all identified as Russians) were immersed in virtual environments with the help of the CAVE virtual reality system. Their task was to approach the avatar, present herself/himself in any way they wanted, and give instructions for the work. During the task the interpersonal distances between the participants and the avatars were measured. After leaving the CAVE, the participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire assessing the Presence effect.
Results. The results showed gender differences in how much interpersonal distance was maintained: women preferred to keep shorter interpersonal distances with their virtual partners than men did. Moreover, the results showed the impact of ethnic appearance on interpersonal distances. Women approached the avatars of their own ethnic group more closely and kept further away from the avatars of other ethnic groups. Unlike the women, the men stayed the same distance away from the avatars of different ethnic groups. Both gender groups kept equally far away from the avatar of African appearance. Gender differences were also revealed in the participants’ estimates of the Presence effect.
Keywords: gender differences, interethnic interaction, interpersonal distance, avatar, Presence effect, CAVE virtual reality technology