A Study of Emotional Contagion with Virtual Characters


J. Tsai, E. Bowring, S. Marsella, W. Wood, and M. Tambe. 2012. “A Study of Emotional Contagion with Virtual Characters .” In International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA) (short paper) .


In social psychology, emotional contagion describes the widely observed phenomenon of one person’s emotions mimicking surrounding people’s emotions [10]. In this paper, we perform a battery of experiments to explore the existence of agent-human emotional contagion. The first study is a betweensubjects design, wherein subjects were shown an image of a character’s face with either a neutral or happy expression. Findings indicate that even a still image induces a very strong increase in self-reported happiness between Neutral and Happy conditions with all characters tested. In a second study, we examine the effect of a virtual character’s presence in a strategic situation by presenting subjects with a modernized Stag Hunt game. Our experiments show that the contagion effect is substantially dampened and does not cause a consistent impact on behavior. A third study explores the impact of the strategic decision within the Stag Hunt and conducts the same experiment using a description of the same strategic situation with the decision already made. We find that the emotional impact returns, implying that the contagion effect is substantially lessened in the presence of a strategic decision.
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