Social engagement and user immersion in a socially based virtual world

Austin M. Grinberg, Jesus Serrano Careaga, Matthias R. Mehl, Mary Frances O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Research into online social virtual worlds demonstrates their utility as a methodological tool for studying social behaviors and traits. Less is known about what aspects of the virtual world lead users to experience a sense of immersion (i.e., a psychological state characterized by perceiving oneself to be enveloped by a virtual environment; Witmer & Singer, 1998). The current study extends previous research by assessing the importance of social engagement with other avatars as a key component of immersion in virtual worlds. Participants navigated a virtual "hotel" in Second Life, an online social virtual world. We assessed participants' social engagement with other avatars and the amount participants explored the virtual space e.g., spatial exploration. Positive associations between social engagement and immersion, and negative associations between spatial exploration and immersion, suggest that the users' social experience outweighed the users' spatial experience in creating a sense of immersion in this virtual world. This was despite the fact that the social experience was ultimately less realistic than the visual one. This finding, along with previous literature, suggests that the social nature of virtual worlds is a key component of user's sense of immersion in the virtual environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-486
Number of pages8
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Avatar
  • Exploratory behavior
  • Immersion
  • Online
  • Social interaction
  • Virtual world

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Psychology(all)


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