Digital space behavior close to physical world proxemics

The ACM technews recently reported on a study about an intriguing experiment in Second Life (presented at the 7th International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents):

"University College London researchers are using an automated avatar in Second Life to study the psychology of Second Life users. The automated avatar, called SL-bot, has been used to see if Second Life users expect other avatars to give their avatar the same amount of personal space as is normally expected in real life. In one experiment, SL-bot searched for avatars that were alone. When an isolated avatar was found, SL-bot would approach the avatar, greet the avatar by name, wait two seconds, and then move to within the virtual equivalent of 1.2 meters. SL-bot then recorded the other avatar's reaction for 10 seconds and sent the data back to the researchers. Out of the 28 avatars approached in this manner, 12 moved away and 20 also responded with text chat. Another experiment observed pairs of avatars as they interacted and found that users are, on average, six times more likely to shift position when someone comes within 1.2 meters. The findings show that people value their virtual personal space much like people value their real personal space. During an experiment where undergraduate students with scripts interacted with subject avatars, it was found that female avatars protect their personal space less than male avatars, reflecting real world behavior."

Why do I blog this? apart form the ethical discussion about the use of virtual test subjects, this study is interesting in terms of digital space usage. Result are actually very close to what Jeffrey, P., & Mark, G. described in "Constructing Social Spaces in Virtual Environments: A Study of Navigation and Interaction" (In K. Höök, A. Munro, D. Benyon, (Eds.) Personalized and Social Navigation in Information Space, March 16-17, 1998, Stockholm (SICS Technical Report T98:02) 1998) , Stockholm: Swedish Institute of Computer Science (SICS), pp. 24-38). These authors found studied a 3D virtual world and showed that proxemics can be maintained in virtual environments. Even there, a certain social distance is kept between participants’ avatars. They noticed how spatial invasions produced anxiety-arousing behavior (like verbal responses, discomfort and overt signs of stress) with attempts to re-establish a preferred physical distance similar to the distance obverted in the physical world.