I’ve spent a large proportion of this summer gaming when I meant to be doing psychology work, so I figured I could at least combine the two so it looks like I’ve done some work!
I first got the idea of this combination when I was playing Halo 3 online- while the game is good, an annoying part of the online experience is that people on the opposing team will in many cases jump away and lose a point for committing suicide rather than lose a gunfight and have the other team gain a point. Even though these two options have the same outcome mathematically, many people will choose to take the deliberate loss rather than let someone else gain any status. While this seems like an irrational decision, the principle is common in real-life as well.
Thank Henri Tajfel (a professor at Bristol University, which is good to hear for a Bristol native) for finding this out. Tajfel aimed to learn more about discrimination, and his logic was to start with the most basic and meaningless groups possible, then make them more meaningful to find out at what point people would discriminate against each other. This didn’t go to plan however, as he found that even at the first stage of meaningless groupings (such as being grouped on preference of one painting over another, or even on the results of a coin flip) led to discrimination against the other group- this is now known as the minimal group paradigm.
The groups in Tajfel’s experiments had to allocate points to random people known only by their number and group (e.g. person 10 in group A)- each person was promised they would receive whatever they had been given by others. While they predicted that people would try to give their own group as many points as possible, to earn the individuals as much as possible, they instead found that people would give points in a way that made the difference between the groups bigger, even if that meant sacrificing their groups potential gain. So a potential conclusion of this experiment is simply; people don’t make sense a lot of the time.
While I was thinking about this, I saw that this wasn’t just a one-off match. A popular study known as the “First Mover” experiment (an economic experiment regarding people’s trust in distributing money), has recently been replicated, not in the real world but in the virtual world of Second Life, using their currency of Linden Dollars (which can be exchanged for real money, so there was still the element of real financial gain involved). The results in the Second Life version were pretty similar to the real-life results, and also showed that people were far more generous when given the ability to send (anonymous) messages agreeing how much money to give, something that was not explored in the original experiments.
It may seem odd that Social Psychology, which is often about face-to-face interaction, is now being used in studies of virtual communication, but in a way that makes sense. It shows just how similar the virtual world is now becoming to the “real-world”, and how in many ways people can still be the same online as offline.