Human agency beliefs influence behaviour during virtual social interactions

Nathan Caruana, Dean Spirou, Jon Brock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


In recent years, with the emergence of relatively inexpensive and accessible virtual reality technologies, it is now possible to deliver compelling and realistic simulations of human-to-human interaction. Neuroimaging studies have shown that, when participants believe they are interacting via a virtual interface with another human agent, they show different patterns of brain activity compared to when they know that their virtual partner is computer-controlled. The suggestion is that users adopt an ''intentional stance'' by attributing mental states to their virtual partner. However, it remains unclear how beliefs in the agency of a virtual partner influence participants' behaviour and subjective experience of the interaction. We investigated this issue in the context of a cooperative ''joint attention'' game in which participants interacted via an eye tracker with a virtual onscreen partner, directing each other's eye gaze to different screen locations. Half of the participants were correctly informed that their partner was controlled by a computer algorithm (''Computer'' condition). The other half were misled into believing that the virtual character was controlled by a second participant in another room (''Human'' condition). Those in the ''Human'' condition were slower to make eye contact with their partner and more likely to try and guide their partner before they had established mutual eye contact than participants in the ''Computer'' condition. They also responded more rapidly when their partner was guiding them, although the same effect was also found for a control condition in which they responded to an arrow cue. Results confirm the influence of human agency beliefs on behaviour in this virtual social interaction context. They further suggest that researchers and developers attempting to simulate social interactions should consider the impact of agency beliefs on user experience in other social contexts, and their effect on the achievement of the application's goals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3819
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Eye gaze
  • Eye-tracking
  • Joint attention
  • Social interaction
  • Virtual reality


Dive into the research topics of 'Human agency beliefs influence behaviour during virtual social interactions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this