Innes, J.M. and Proll, A., Murdoch University, Australia
The role of the Internet in facilitating social and political change has received considerable attention in the media and in the social science literature. The availability of opportunities for social interchange in rapid, synchronous and anonymous conditions has raised the possibility of liberal and sometimes anarchic societies being established which can challenge the status quo in many countries. There has been, however, a lack of empirical studies to investigate the degree to which people in interaction in virtual reality actually behave in a way different from the ways in which they interact in real physical conditions. This paper reports a series of studies which examine experimentally the degree to which people conform to norms established in virtual reality conditions and obey directions from authority figures. In both graphical and text based environments our experimental studies show that, while there is a lack of conformity to peer pressure in virtual reality, in Asch-condition manipulations, there is clear evidence of obedience to authority in conditions similar to the manipulation of authority in Milgram experiments.. The social structure of the environments in which the interactions take place is considered in the interpretation of these data. The implications of the data for the interpretation of the effects of the Internet politically and socially is considered.