We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Eric Maslowski and Duncan Rowland in
the design of the virtual environments and Mark Hamilton. This study was funded in part
by the MSU Foundation and the SBC-Ameritech Foundation.
Manuscript (in press). To be published with minor changes in
Presence: Teleoperators and virtual environments (2003).
The effect of the agency and virtual image of virtual
on users’ sense of presence, copresence, and social
Department of Communication Sciences
University of Connecticut
850 Bolton Road U-1085
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06250
Media Interface & Network Design Lab
Michigan State University
We report on an experiment that examined the influence of anthropomorphism and
perceived agency on presence, copresence and social presence in a social virtual environment.
The experiment varied the level of anthropomorphism of the image of an interactant: high, low or
no virtual image. Perceived agency was manipulated by telling the participants that the image was
either an avatar, controlled by a human, or an agent, controlled by the computer. The results
support the prediction that people respond socially to both human and computer controlled
entities, but that the anthropomorphism of the virtual image does influence a person’s sense of
telepresence. Participants interacting with less anthropomorphic, unusual image of the other
reported more copresence, social presence and presence as immersion than those interacting
with parters represented by either no image at all or by a highly anthropomorphic image of the
other. Results support theories that users respond automatically and equally to human and
computer controlled entitites that exhibit similar social behavior and suggest possible limitations
in attempts to represent others with behaviorally limited anthropomorphic images.
I eliminated a
sentence on low image
being higher in presence
because it did not appear
to correspond to the
results, in that your direct
test does not suppor tis.
Advances in technology and the changing media consumption patterns brought
about by the information society (Straubhaar & LaRose, 2002) have made
telecommunication devices increasingly ubiquitous and easy to use . Questions have been
raised about how different systems effect user’s perceptions of the systems as well as
the people that use them. For example, users experience experience differing levels of
physical presence, or immersion (Draper, Kaber, & Usher, 1998; Held & Durlach,
1992; Lombard et al., 2000; Minsky, 1980; Sheridan, 1992; Steuer, 1994), co-
presence, or connection with another human (Goffman, 1963; Nowak, 2001), and social
presence, or perception of a medium’s ability to connect people (Rice, 1993; Short,
Williams, & Christie, 1976) in mediated environments.
People’s responses may be more intense during interactions with others, whether
these ‘others’ were human or non-human ‘bots’. However, people have reported feeling
some level of presence, social presence and copresence in almost all mediated
environments [Schroeder, 2002 #1441]. For example, people have responded socially to
others when connected by text based media, and teleconferencing systems as well as in
systems that provide any representation of another such as visual chat rooms, images,
or 3D avatars (Rheingold, 1995; Schroeder, 2002). People have even responded socially
to the computer interfaces themselves (Nass, Lombard, Henriksen, & Steuer, 1995;
Nass & Moon, 2000; Reeves & Nass, 1996).
Technological advances have led to the ability of computers and agents to
increasing mimic the appearance and behaviors of humans (Brent & Thompson, 1999;
Dryer, 1999; Nass et al., 1995). In these mediated interactions, people have
responded socially to both human and non-human others (Nass et al., 1995; Nass &
Moon, 2000; Reeves & Nass, 1996; Slater & Steed, 2002). Visual representations of
have little to do with
supporting this specific
statement. Seems fatuous.
both human and non-human entities increasingly inhabit games, online shopping
environments, and educational software applications (Cassell, Sullivan, Prevost, &
Churchill, 2000; Schroeder, 2002).
These visual representations can and do vary on a number of levels and include
everything from two-dimensional pictures of characters to three-dimensional animated
embodiments (see Damer, 1997; Donath, Karahalios, & Viegas, 1999; Guye-
Vuilleme, Capin, Pandzic, Magnenat-Thalmann, & Thalmann, 1999; Talamo &
Ligorio, 2001). Technological advances have allowed these visual representations to
become increasingly anthropomorphic, or increasingly similar to human morphology and
physical characteristics , which may affect people’s responses to them and their
perception of the entity they represent.
Historically people have spent much effort marking the boundary between human
and non-human, distinguishing humans from both animals and machines (Sheehan,
1991a, 1991b). At the same time, advances in the development of artificial intelligence
have made it possible for a computer program to perform tasks that have traditionally
been reserved for humans (Goodwin, 1998; Magnenat-Thalmann & Kshirsagar,
2000). However, in computer interactions people seem to have difficulty in making the
human/not human distinction. Agency as we use it here is is a distinction between
whether or not an entity is controlled by a human in real time.
This has raised two kinds of concerns: psychological concerns about the social
responses to both humans and agents (Don, 1992; Laurel, 1990; Reeves & Nass,
1996; Turkle, 1995), and design questions about the possible value and utility of these
social responses to the design of interfaces and agents (Brooks, 2002; Cassell et al.,
2000) One issue has to do with the social-psychological health of this “unnatural” social
interaction. There has been some concern about the tendency of humans to respond
Comment: Determine whether the
term "agency" or "perceived agency"
is appropriate and make sure it's
used consistently throughout the
socially to computers and to computer-controlled characters and whether this will
influence people’s ability to successfully function in the information age (Don, 1992;
Laurel, 1990; Reeves & Nass, 1996; Turkle, 1995). Some of this concern is of ethical
nature, part of a long-standing discomfort at the confusion of the boundaries between the
human and non-human (Sheehan, 1991a, 1991b). Other concerns have to do with the
psychological health of users who treat the computer as a friend, and the implications for
future interactions with “real” humans (Don, 1992; Laurel, 1990; Turkle, 1995).
Another issue surrounding people’s interactions with agents is more practical in that
it deals with the issue of whether or not agents can improve the usefulness of media
interfaces. Researchers have found that people tend to respond socially to the computer
interface itself because it mimics human behavior (Reeves & Nass, 1996). Their
argument has been that such social responses occur, are natural, and must be considered
during the process of designing or understanding responses to an interface.
These differing levels of anthropomorphism and agency have a practical bearing on
the usability an perception of both the mediated environments themselves as well as for
the quality of the interaction and the perception of the entities that use them. For
example, agency and anthropomorphism may influence not only people’s perceptions of
one another but also their ability to complete tasks as well as their behavior in social
interactions, computer games or other contexts (e.g., Benford, Greenhalg, Bowers,
Snowdon, & Fahlén, 1995; Benford, Greenhalgh, Rodden, & Pycock, 2001; Cassell &
Vilhjalmsson, 1999). Further, it is possible that the visual representation of an entity will
influence a person’s perception of it as either human or not human. This paper examines
the influence of the visual representation as well as agency on people’s sense of presence,
copresence and social presence. Implications of these findings for the design and use of
social virtual environments are discussed. The next section defines and differentiates
presence, co-presence and social presence.
The sense of “being there” with another in a social virtual environment:
presence, co-presence, and social presence.
The concept of presence is very broad and has a variety of definitions and
meanings (Barfield, Zeltzer, Sheridan, & Slater, 1995; Lombard et al., 2000).
Presence has been recognized as a key performance goal for many systems. This
multidimensional concept can provide insight into both the medium’s ability to provide the
feeling that the user is “there” inside the media (i.e., telepresence), or in the “company of
others” (i.e., co-presence) (Schroeder, 2002). At the same time, presence can measure
the extent to which people feel that the interface is able to provide some sense of access
to another mind (i.e., social presence). It has been argued that one of the major reasons
for providing a visual representation in virtual environments is to give users a sense of one
another’s presence and to enhance the feeling of co-location (Benford et al., 1995;
Benford et al., 2001). Presence can include the dimensions of telepresence, social
presence and copresence, but each of these are defined and measured distinctly as
defined in this section.
The concept of mediated presence,
or telepresence (Draper et al., 1998; Held
& Durlach, 1992; Minsky, 1980; Sheridan, 1992; Steuer, 1994), is most often
defined succinctly as the sensation of ‘being there’ in the virtual or mediated environment
(Heeter, 1992; Steuer, 1994). When telepresent, the user feels immersed (Witmer &
Singer, 1994) in the environment represented by the medium (Steuer, 1994). Biocca
(1997) and others (Gerrig, 1993; Minsky, 1980) have described telepresence as the
user’s compelling sense of being in a mediated space, and not where their physical body is
The term copresence originated in the work of Goffman (1963), who explained
that copresence existed when people reported that they were actively perceiving others
and felt that others were actively perceiving them. Further, in its true meaning,
“copresence renders persons uniquely accessible, available, and subject to one another”
(Goffman, 1963, p. 22). Ciolec (1982) also considered copresence and emphasized the
importance of attention or responsiveness to others. Copresence in this sense solely
refers to a psychological connection to and with another person. It requires that
interactants feel they were able to perceive their interaction partner, and that their
interaction partner actively perceived them (see also Nowak, 2000b; 2001a).
Social presence has been frequentlu used to evaluate people’s ability to connect via
telecommunication systems (Fulk, Steinfield, Schmitz, & Power, 1987; Rice, 1993;
Rice & Tyler, 1995; Short et al., 1976; Trevino, Lengel, & Daft, 1987; Walther,
1992; Walther & Burgoon, 1992; Walther, 1996). Short, Williams and Christie (1976)
are credited with giving broad theoretical currency to the concept of social presence. They
defined social presence as “the degree of salience of the other person in the interaction
and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationships” (p. 65). However, their
measures of social presence have been shown to relate more to the user’s perception of
a medium’s ability to provide salience of another as opposed to measuring the actual
perceived salience of another person (see Nowak, 2001).
This section defined and differentiated presence, co-presence and social presence.
The next section defines agency and considers its potential influence on these constructs.
Does the agency of a virtual human influence the level of presence?
The philosophical and psychological concept of agency has many subtle dimensions
(e.g., Bratman, 1999; McCann, 1998). The concept of agency, defined as the state of
being in action or of exerting power, is central to the issue of the volitional or intentional
force that drive the actions of an entity.
The difference between an agent and avatar as defined here turns on the issue of
agency. The term agent is used to describe an entity whose actions are controlled by the
computer itself (e.g., a bot), whereas the term avatar is used to describe an entity whose
actions are controlled by a human in real time. This project examines whether or not this
distinction influences presence, co-presence or social presence.
There are two basic positions that examine the issue of whether human agency is
experienced differently, exploring whether or not humanity is somehow priviledged:
Human primacy. This position holds that “humanity matters.” That people are
aware of the agency of the intelligent entities they interact with. If this were true
then agency would affect social experience. Therefore, even if agents look and
behave the same, if they know it is an agent, users will feel less connected to
virtual humans who are agents as than those who are avatars
(e.g., Sheehan &
Automatic Social Responsiveness. This position holds that people automatically
respond socially to entitites that look or behave like humans. Therefore, if an agent
looks human or behaves like a human, i.e., it uses human language, then people will
respond to it socially, or similarly to how they would respond to another human
(e.g., Reeves & Nass, 1996).
As we will see below, these positions define the extremes; one argues that
humanity matters psychologically, the other than only the illusion of humanity matters.
This experiment explores the boundary.
The intentional stance: Perceiving agency in virtual humans
Among the many philosophers of agency, Daniel Dennett suggested that people
have adopted a successful evolutionary strategy in dealing with all entities they encounter
and treating all entities (including people, animals and artifacts) as if it were a rational
A virtual human controlled by a human in real time is labeled “avatar,” but it would be
labeled an “agent” if an artificial intelligence or a computer controlled it.
agent governed in its ‘choice’ of “action” by a ‘consideration’ of its ‘beliefs’ and ‘desires’
(Dennett, 1996, p. 27)..
Consistent with the intentional stance, there is behavioral and neuropsycholgical evidence
to suggest that humans are hardwired to respond to cues that suggest an entitity has
intentionality. In our encounter with intentional entitites, ones that appear human may
receive special attention. Agents in virtual environments may have morphology similar to
humans, appear to be self-propelled, have facial expressions and use language suggesting
internal states. These cues may activate selective neuropsychological responses and lead
to the perception that these entities they are “living” as opposed to “nonliving” (Gainotti,
Silveri, Daniele, & Giustolisi, 1995; Warrington & Shallice, 1984). This may mean that
people are unable or unwilling to distinguish between humans and non-humans in the face
of similar morphology and behavior (Keil, 1994).
Computer generated agents display forms and behaviors that may activate
people’s tendency to respond socially. These cues may trigger some form of modeling of
the “beliefs,” “attention” and “desires” of the agent, or - to put it another way - the
“other mind” of an agent. An understanding of these processes can shed a great deal of
the light on the theorizing and measurement of the mediated connection to another
physical or artificial mind (Biocca et al., 2001; Nowak, 2000, 2001) by providing a
framework for understanding the nature of the stimulus, for example which behavioral
cues are most strongly linked to activating a social response from a user, and the various
psychological response mechanisms that either tend to conflate real and artificial humans
and/or persist in maintaining a significant psychological distinction between human and
artificial minds in the face of similar morphology and behavior.
Do users feel equally socially present with humans, agents, or robots?
When designing interfaces the issue of agency becomes important to the user’s
perceptions of the interaction and message. To understand what someone is saying, why
they said it, and the social implications of the message, any interaction with another
triggers people’s need to determine who sent the message, and why. If this is the case,
then the assumption might be that agents are “mindless” in that they have no real
intentions, history, or the social authority of humans. If users focus on the “mindlessness”
of agents, it is reasonable to theorize that they will feel less co-presence and socially
present with these “empty” virtual humans. It is likely that agency, especially the extent
to which the agent is perceived to be human, will influence the user’s sense of access to
another mind. This may mean that, especially in the virtual world, there will be varying
levels of “humanness” or qualities that bring up the sense of access to another mind or
intelligence that has traditionally been reserved for humans.
This leads to the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis I: People will feel more copresent interacting with an avatar than with an
Hypothesis II: People will feel more social presence interacting with avatars than with
People regularly interact with other physically present, or mediated, humans (e.g.,
via telephone or television). Users have less experience interacting with artificially
intelligent entities and may find it harder to feel copresent with them. The knowledge that
the intelligence is not human may lead the user to create thin, superficial models of
other’s intentions or “thoughts” and inhibit the sense of copresence or social presence.
Hypothesis III: Users will feel more physically present in a virtual environment populated
by an avatar than one populated an agent.
People have experience being in the same place with humans. Therefore, being with
another human in a virtual environment may feel familiar and natural. They have less, or
no experience being in the same environment with agents. Thus, when in virtual
environments with avatars, people may feel more comfortable than when in
environments populated by agents. This greater comfort may increase the sense of
The influence of anthropomorphism on presence, co-presence, and social
People interact with others in virtual environments for a variety of purposes. During
these interactions, people are forming mental models of one another. In the natural
world, the features of the natural body are used for categorizing and forming mental
models of one another (Argyle, 1975, 1988; Hinton, 1993; Ichheiser, 1970). Further, a
person’s physical characteristics is the basis for identification during unmediated
interactions [Ichheiser, 1970 #234]. Research has suggested that users continue to
categorize other people in virtual environments using the same categories they use in
natural environments (Lipton, 1996; Reeves & Nass, 1996; Spender, 1996; Suler, 1996;
Takeuchi & Naito, 1995; Waskul & Douglass, 1997). Thus, it is likely that people will use
the features of the virtual image for categorization in virtual environments and that the
virtual image will influence how people respond to and feel about the medium and the
environment itself. Further, being represented by an image makes the people and
environment seem more ‘real’ (Taylor, 2002). It seems that the visual representations
provide a means of identification and recognition that may enhance engagement and a
sense of being together in the environment (Benford et al., 2001; Cassell & Vilhjalmsson,
1999; Talamo & Ligorio, 2001; Taylor, 2002).
If this is correct, then any visible representation of another would cause people to
feel more immersed in the environment and to respond more socially than when no
image is visible.
This led to the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis IV: People will feel more physical presence when their partner is represented
by an image than when partner is not represented by an image.
Not only is the very existence of a virtual image likely to influence perception, but
different images have been shown to have different influences (Koda, 1996a; Oravec,
1996; Slater & Steed, 2002; Taylor, 2002; Turkle, 1995; Wexelblat, 1997), though the
direction and type of influence different images may have is still unclear. People have
reacted as if virtual images with human morphological characteristics (anthropomorphic)
necessarily represented humans (Koda, 1996a; Wexelblat, 1997), and less
anthropomorphic images did not represent humans (Slater & Steed, 2002). Although
people have responded socially to all interfaces to some degree (Reeves & Nass, 1996),
this ‘social’ instinct appears to be stronger with the more ‘human’ looking
(anthropomorphic) images (Koda, 1996a; Reeves & Nass, 1996; Turkle, 1995). More
anthropomorphic images have been reported to be more engaging, interesting and
attractive (Koda, 1996a; Wexelblat, 1997), which may explain why much of the
character design work is done with a goal towards recreating life-like or human-like forms
(Guye-Vuilleme et al., 1999; Isla & Blumberg, 2002). At the same time, more
anthropomorphic images may set up higher expectations that could be disappointing
when these expectations are not met (Hindmarsh, Fraser, Heath, & Benford, 2001; Slater
& Steed, 2002).
A computer-generated image may or may not have much relationship with who or
what is actually being embodied. This means that the virtual embodiment of the
intelligence is polymorphic, or it could take almost any shape (Fisher, 1997). This may
have advantages or disadvantages for human communication (Lanier, 1992). It would
be advantageous if, for example, shape could be altered to dynamically to express a
range of personalities and moods to facilitate people’s ability to communicate. Virtual
images have been shown to represent a person and may be perceived to convey their
abilities or limitations in the virtual world (Benford et al., 1995; Benford et al., 2001).
This ambiguity about the value of anthropomorphism raises the question about the
influence of anthropomorphism. Can users feel the same level of co-presence and social
presence with virtual images that appear less anthropomorphic as compared to virtual
images that conform more closely to the shape of the human image? Is the “default”
image contained in a person’s mind the one that most resembles the physical human
image? In other words, when no visible image is provided to the user, do they
automatically imagine their interaction partner looks human, or anthropomorphic? Does
this matter to human communication? Are users really free to take on any shape as
virtual humans? What are the implications for their ability to successfully communicate
with others? How does it affect the interaction?
This leads to the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis V: People will feel less copresence with partners represented by low-
anthropomorphic images than those represented by high-anthropomorphic, or without
Hypothesis VI: People will feel less social presence with partners represented by low-
anthropomorphic images than when their partners are represented by high-
anthropomorphic or without images.
A 2 X 3 between-subjects experiment was conducted using two factors: (1)
agency of virtual other with two levels (a) participants were told they were interacting
with a human (avatar) or (b) a bot (agent), and (2) degree of anthropomorphism of
virtual image with three levels, (a) highly anthropomorphic image, (b) low
anthropomorphic image, and (c) no image control.
134 undergraduate participants (94 males, 40 females) received extra credit in
introductory telecommunication courses. Participants were stratified by sex and randomly
assigned to one of the six experimental conditions.
The environment. This interaction took place in a 3-dimensional environment that
appeared on a computer screen and resembled a meeting room with a sign indicating that
participants were in the scavenger hunt meeting place.
Degree of anthromophism The degrees of anthropomorphism of the virtual
confederate was manipulated by inserting one of three types of virtual conferderates in a
virtual room: (1) a high-anthropomorphic female face (see Figure 1a); (2) a low-
anthropomorphic abstract face (see Figure 1b); or no image at all (see Figure 1c). Both
images contained the same number of cues including faces with eyes, mouths and noses.
Agency. Both written and verbal instructions contained the agency manipulation.
Participants were told whether they were interacting with either (a) an computer-
controlled agent or (b) a human controlled avatar. The instructions were repeated orally
by the experimenter.
The pre-test questionnaire was done on paper and pencil. The post-test
questionnaire was presented to the participants using Survey Said computerized software.
Presence. Presence is a measure of the feeling a person has that they are “inside” a
virtual environment, a sense of “being there.” This measure comes from a development
of a measure for presence as immersion (Lombard & Ditton, 1999). Eight likert-type
items with a 7-point metric were used to form a scale. This scale included indicators such
as “how intense” the experience in the environment was and the extent to which the
experience was “involving” and “immersive.”
Copresence. Copresence as discussed above is related to the feeling of connection
between two people. Given its dual nature, this was measured by two separate scales,
one asked about the participant’s perception of their partner’s involvement in the
interaction and the other asked the participant about their own involvement in the
The scale measuring the perceived copresence of the virtual confederate (agent or
avatar) included 15 indicators taken from three of the dimensions of immediacy. This
included immediacy/affection, similarity/depth and receptivity/trust. This scale was derived
from a combination of the indicators for intimacy, involvement and immediacy from
Burgoon and Hale (1987) receptivity/trust (Burgoon & Hale, 1987). This included whether
the other was perceived to be involved, interested or emotional about the conversation.
It also included whether or not the interaction partner made the conversation seem
superficial or created a sense of distance between the interaction partners. These were
likert-type items with a five-point metric.
The second scale included 11 indicators similar to those above, but they were revised to
ask how involved the participant was in the interaction. These items measured the extent
to which the participant self-reported being copresent in the interaction and included
questions about whether they were interested in a deeper relationship or more intimate
conversation with their interaction partner. These were also likert-type items with a five-
Social Presence. Social presence, or the perceived ability of the medium to connect
people (ability of the medium itself to provide social presence), consisted of 9 items from
Short, Williams and Christie (1976). The scale was a Likert-type scale instrument with a
7-point metric. It included questions about how the person at the other end seemed,
whether or not the medium provided a sense of realism, and whether or not one could
get to know a person they encountered only through the medium in question.
Prior to the experimental manipulation participants experiment, participants filled
out a consent form and pretest questionnaire. Participants then read paper instructions
that told them that their goal was to get to know their partner who may work with them
and compete as a team for a $100 prize in the future on a scavenger hunt for software
technologies on the World Wide Web. The instructions contained the agency manipulation;
they were told whether they were interacting with either (a) an computer-controlled
agent or (b) a human controlled avatar. The participant was then taken to a computer in
a computer laboratory and the instructions were repeated orally by the experimenter.
The participants sat a 19” computer screen equipment with headphones, a microphone,
and a keyboard where they entered the virtual environment. In the no image condition
the subjects entered their participant id numbers and immediately entered the virtual
room (see Figure 1c). In the other conditions, participants entered the id numbers and
went to the character selection screen (See Figure 1D), where they selected the
character (embodiment) to represent them in the 3D environment. Then participants
entered the virtual environment by pressing the ‘enter’ button where they entered the
same room as the no image condition but found the virtual confederate’s image was
already in the room.
All participants in all conditions heard the same female voice reading the same script. The
script began with the virtual confederate (agent or avatar) introducing themselves and
then the participant was asked to do the same. Following the introduction, the participant
pressed a button marked ‘done’ to indicate their turn was over. Then the virtual
confederate indicated their skills relevant to an Internet scavenger hunt. The participant
then spoke into a microphone to communicate their skills. Following participant’s turn to
indicate their skills, they pressed the ‘done’ button. The virtual confederate said goodbye
and indicated a wish to continue working with the participant. The average interaction
lasted about fifteen minutes.
After the interaction, participants completed an online questionnaire that included
measures of presence, copresence, and social presence. Then they were debriefed.
The agent variable was effect coded and a regression was run to look for
multiplicative interaction but none was found. An alpha level of .05 was used for all tests.
The dimensionality of each scale was determined in two ways. First, confirmatory
factor analysis tests of internal consistency were applied to each instrument. All retained
items met the following criteria: (a) face validity and (b) a primary factor loading of at
least .5. Items were removed if they deviated from other items than would be expected
by sampling error, or when item correlations failed tests of internal consistency. Second,
all scales were evaluated together and all items loaded highest on their primary factor.
The final number of items in each scale is detailed when the scale is first used in analysis.
Standardized item alpha is included for all scales.
An alpha level of .05 was used for all statistical tests. An independent samples T-test for
Agency was conducted for Hypotheses I-III.
Hypothesis I: People will feel more copresent with an avatar than with an agent
This hypothesis was not supported.
The scale measuring the perceived copresence maintained 13 of 15 indicators (standard
alpha = .9). Using individual’s averages, responses ranged from 1.17 to 4.67.
Of eleven self-reported copresence items, five items remained (Standardized alpha= .78)
and the individual’s average responses ranged from 1 to 5. The items that were dropped
appeared to be bad items in this manipulation
The effect of agency on the perception that the virtual confederate was copresent is not
significant, T(1, 132) = -.39, p = .70. Means (with standard deviations in parentheses) for those in
the agent and avatar condition were 2.82 (.77) and 2.87 (.78), respectively.
The effect of agency on the participant’s self-reported copresence in the interaction is not
significant, T(1,132) = .57, p = .57. Means (with standard deviations in parentheses) for those in
the agent condition and avatar condition were 2.90 (.69) and 2.82 (.80), respectively.
Hypothesis II: People will feel more physical presence with an avatar than with an agent.
This hypothesis was not supported. The scale measuring physical presence (standard
alpha= .90) retained five of the eight original items after tests of internal consistency and reliability.
Participant’s average responses on this scale ranged from 1.17 to 6.
The effect of agency on the sense of presence in the environment was not significant T(1,
132) = .67, p = .50. Average score means (with standard deviations in parentheses) for those in
the agent condition and avatar condition 3.59 (1.25) and 3.44 (1.31), respectively.
Hypothesis III: People will feel more social presence when interacting with avatars than
The scale measuring the perceived ability of a medium to provide social presence
(Standardized Alpha .82) was measured on a sliding scale which coded participant’s responses
to the nearest hundredth based on placement of the slider on the screen and had a possible range
These included how involved, detached or intimate this conversation was. They
were not related directly to their perception of their interaction partner.
of between 1 and 2. This scale retained all 6 of the original items and the individual averaged
scores on this scale ranged from 1 to 2.
The effect of agency on social presence is not significant T(132) = -.97, p = -.33.
(With standard deviations in parentheses) for those in the agent condition and avatar
condition were 1.55 (.33) and 1.60 (.33), respectively.
Effect of Virtual image on presence
Hypothesis IV: People will feel more presence as immersion when their partner is
represented by an image than when partner is not represented by an image.
This hypothesis was not supported. The means were in a different linear direction.
A linear regression with effects coded values (0 no image, 1 anthropomorphic
image or anthropomorphic image) was used to test this hypothesis. Though those in the
image conditions felt more presence than those in the no image condition, the difference
was not significant, R = .14, F = 2.48, p = .12.
However, participants did report higher levels or presence when they interacted
with a partner represented by an image. They reported more presence with the low-
anthropomorphic image than with the anthropomorphic image. This relationship was
tested with a linear regression with effects coded values (-1 no image, 0 anthropomorphic
image, +1 low-anthropomorphic image). This relationship is significant R = .17, F = 3.87,
p = .05. Those in the low anthropomorphic condition felt more presence than those in the
anthropomorphic condition, who felt more presence than those in the no image condition.
Effect of Less Anthropomorphic Embodiment on co and social presence
A linear regression with effects coding (0 low-anthropomorphic image, 1 no image,
and 1 anthropomorphic image) was used to test the influence of the low-
anthropomorphic image in hypotheses IV – VI. See Table 1.
Insert Figure 2 about here.
redundant a nd unclear. Low
Hypothesis V: People will feel less copresence with partners represented by low
anthropomorphic images than those represented by high anthropomorphic, or no images.
This hypothesis was not supported. The effect of the low-anthropomorphic image
was significant in the opposite direction.
The effect of an anthropomorphic virtual image on perceived copresence of the
virtual confederate (agent or avatar) is significant, R = .24, F = 8.21, p = .01.
Participants interacting with the less anthropomorphic virtual image reported their partners
to be MORE copresent than those who interacted with either a more anthropomorphic
virtual image OR with no image.
The same trend in the results was found with regard the participants' self-reported
copresence in the interaction. The effect of a low-anthropomorphic image on
participants’s self-reported copresence is significant, R = .18, F = 4.23, p = .04.
Participants interacting with a less anthropomorphic virtual image felt more copresence
with their partner than those interacting with either no image or with a more
anthropomorphic virtual image.
Hypothesis VI: People will feel less social presence w/medium when partner is represented
by low anthropomorphic image than when partner is represented by more
anthropomorphic or no image.
This hypothesis was not supported. There was a significant difference in the
The effect of a low-anthropomorphic image on participants’s social presence is
significant, R = 21, F = 5.88, p = .02. Participants interacting with a less anthropomorphic
virtual image felt that the environment could provide more social presence than those
interacting with either no image or with a more anthropomorphic virtual image.
The results have implications for various theoretical issues regarding mediated
interactions. Below we consider the implications of the findings for how users feel present
and respond socially to: (1) humans as compared to computer agents, (2) interactants
who do as compared to those who do not have a virtual image, and (3) the morphology
of the virtual image. The implications for social virtual environment design and use are
Human agency: Users feel equally present with avatars and agents.
In considering the influence of agency, it seems that the perceived entity behind the
virtual human is not as influential as the appearance of the entity. There was no significant
or meaningful difference detected between users told they were interacting with artificial
agents than users interacting with humans. It seems that users felt they had access to
another mind and that the mind was attending to them (copresence) whether it was an
agent or avatar. There was no difference in their perception of the medium’s ability to
provide a connection to another mind (social presence), nor was there any difference in
the extent to which participants felt physically present in the virtual world (presence as
These null findings are consistent with several other studies that suggest that
participants respond to computers socially, or in ways that are similar to their responses
to other humans (Reeves and Nass, 1996). It lends further support for the propositions
associated with the intentional stance (Dennett, 1987), that people ascribe human
intentionality to all entities, whether human or non-human.
Considering embodiment: Choice of image influences presence
This study examined the influence of the virtual image on the user’s reported level
of presence, copresence and social presence. The results show that the choice of virtual
image is an important one; it has definite implications for the outcome of the interaction.
When the virtual human’s image was more unusual and iconic (less anthropomorphic),
people felt they more engaged and involved in the interaction (copresence). They also felt
that the medium was more able to support a social interaction (social presence).
These reaults are particularly interesting because they conflict with previous
research implying that more anthropomorphic characters are more engaging. The results
here show that there is something about some images that cause users to be more
engaged, but it is likely that it is more complicated than just the extent to which the image
looks human-like. In this case, users may have felt more excited, engaged and interested
when the image deviated from what they have experienced in the physical world.
Something about these different virtual images influenced not only the user’s
judgment of co-presence with the other, but also their judgment of the appropriateness
of the medium for social interaction (social presence) and the users sense of presence in
the place. An unusual virtual image may lead to an increased feeling of co-presence with
the other, and increased confidence in the user’s ability to model the environment and the
person at the other end. It is always possible that a more fluid moving character, a
character with a body attached to the head, or some other features would have brought
about more presence or different results. It is possible that the anthropomorphic image
was disconcerting. It represented human features, but very roughly. In open-ended
questionnaires, some participants reported feeling strange about interacting with a head
floating without a body. It is possible that this had more of an influence in the more
anthropomorphic condition where some participants mentioned that the human like
choices were ‘not very attractive’ and ‘funny looking.’ At the same time, the mouth and
eyes were much larger in the low anthropomorphic condition, which may have led to
participants feeling more engaged. Altering the virtual image in certain ways might not
only detract from social communication, but it might also decrease the other’s sense of
If the difference
is not significant, there is
difference as the numbers
will always be different.
presence and their evaluation of the medium itself. These possiblities need to be further
explored to specify the conditions where this might hold. More exploration of this
phenomenon should be pursued in future research.
A pioneer of virtual reality technology, Jaron Lanier, often suggested that the VR
user could easily allow a user to “become a lobster,” or to take on another image to
dramatically signal some mood change or communicate something specific (Lanier,
1992). The results reported above indicate that users should use this freedom to be
anybody with caution.
The default image might be the mental image of an anthropomorphic other
There was not a significant difference in the sense of copresence and social
presence between users who interacted with an anthropomorphic virtual image and those
who interacted with someone not represented by an image. Those in the more
anthropomorphic condition did not discernably respond differently from those in the no
image condition. This indicates that the anthropomorphic image was more simiar to the
default mental image participants created for themselves when one was not supported by
the environment, or the ‘default’ image. Further, this indicates that the reaction to the
anthropomorphic virtual image was not negative, but instead that reactions to the low-
anthropomorphic image were positive
. This may indicate that when there was no image,
people assumed that their interaction partner was anthropomorphic, or appeared human
like they were. This finding is consistent with Walter’s (Walther, 1996) conclusion that
users were more likely to believe that others were “like them” in low bandwidth systems
such as email than in high bandwidth systems where there may be evidence to the
Theories of the psychology of social interaction (theories of other minds) suggest
that the individual’s model of the other’s mind (intentional states) is based on a simulation
and generalization from one’s own mind (Gordon, 1986). In the absence of
disconfirming experience there may be tendency for the “default other” to be some
variation on the self. If this is the case, then the anthropomorphic image and the no-
image condition would be more similar than the low-anthropomorphic image condition
because the user is projecting a “default representation” similar to one’s own on the
other. Such a process would be consistent with the findings of this study.
Do social cues affect telepresence?
Knowledge that one was interacting with avatar or an agent had no effect on
telepresence. On the other hand, interaction with a low-anthropomorphic agent led to the
highest sense of presence as compared to interacting with an anthropomorphic human or
on human image at all. However, as predicted, participants that interacted with either
virtual image felt more presence than those in the no image condition(???). Judgments of
the communication qualities of the other, the medium, and the place may be
interdependent. In this case, judgments of the interactant may have affected judgments
of the interface and the perception of the interaction itself. So weaknesses and possibly
strengths in one aspect of interface design may have effects on the experience and
perception of others, which both designers and users should consider. In this case, it
appears that more expressive facial features do more to enhance engagement, immerson
and copresence than a character that has more characteristics of a human (e.g. hair, ears
and full face).
The means for all conditions were above the middle of the scale. Responses to
the low-anthropomorphic condition were closer to the high end of the scale.
Again, it is this
correct? Does not seem to
Implications for virtual human design and use
There are some preliminary implications for designers suggested by this study:
• If appearance and behavior are the same, users may feel equally present with virtual
humans controlled directly by a human intelligence (avatars) or those controlled by an
artificial intelligence (agents).
• The virtual images affect the user’s experience of presence, co-presence, and social
Socially engaging users with virtual humans.
It has been argued that people may tend to respond socially to all intelligent others,
even to computers (Reeves & Nass, 1996). The results from this study are consistent
with this theory, but must be interpreted cautiously as they are based on acceptance of
the null hypothesis. There were no differences in users’ sense of presence or copresence
whether or not they were interacting with a human.
At the same time, the results showing significant differences in how people
responded to virtual bodies suggest a caveat. Certain type of stimuli elicits enhanced or
increased social reactions and engagement. Anthropomorphic virtual bodies with human
voices may consistently elicit social responses, but at a certain level, increasing
anthropomorphism may be less important to presence than exaggerating certain features
of the image to enhance the experience.
Participants exhibited social responses and judgments to virtual humans whether
they looked human or not. There is support in this experiment for the following
conclusions: as artificial entities are represented by images, or use language like humans –
then they may elicit automatic social responses from users. If they enhance facial
expression and features or are unique and interesting, these responses may be increased.
Thus, these responses may be automatic. The visible representation had an effect on
social responses but the perception of whether the other was human or not had no
effect. Future research should work to better define the boundaries of when, where, and
how these responses are evoked. This study suggests that response is elastic in that
users seem to respond socially with artificial others. It also indicates that people respond
to images with facial features socially, though the type of face influences the extent of this
Table 1: Linear regression table with effects coded values (0 low anthropomorphic image,
1 anthropomorphic image or no image) on physical presence, social presence and both
dimensions of copresence.
Variable B SE B β
Social Presence -.15 .06 -.21*
.40 .14 -.24*
-.28 .14 -.18*
* p < .05.
Figure 1. Images of the difference virtual humans used in experimental conditions of
this study: A. high-anthropomorphic virtual human, B. low anthropomorphic virtual
human, and c. no image of the virtual human (text only).
Figure 1D. In either the anthropomorphic or low-anthromporphic conditions,
participants were allowed to select one of these characters on the “Virtual Representation
Selection Screen” to represent them. This allowed them to see the range of virtual
humans they might encounter in the virtual environment.
A. B. C.
Figure 2: Means for no image, anthropomorphic image and low-anthropomorphic
imag reported by dependent variables presence, self reported presence, perceived
copresence and social presence.
Presence self reported
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