Transformed social interaction in mediated interpersonal communication
Over time, our mode of remote communication has evolved from written letters to telephones, email, internet chatrooms, and video-conferences. Similarly, virtual environments that utilize digital representations of humans promise to further change the nature of remote interaction. Virtual environments are systems which track verbal and nonverbal signals of multiple interactants and render those signals onto avatars, three-dimensional, digital representations of people in a shared digital space. Unlike telephone conversations and video-conferences, interactants in virtual environments have the ability to systematically filter the physical appearance and behavioral actions of their avatars in the eyes of their conversational partners, amplifying or suppressing features and nonverbal signals in real time for strategic purposes. These transformations can have a drastic impact on interactants’ persuasive and instructional abilities. Furthermore, researchers can use this mismatch between actions performed by a speaker and actions perceived by an audience as a tool to examine complex patterns of nonverbal behavior which are difficult to isolate in face-to-face interaction.