This paper describes an experiment that compares behavior in small groups when its members carry out a task in a virtual environment (VE) and then continue the same task in a similar, real-world environment. The purpose of the experiment was not to examine task performance, but to compare various aspects of the social relations among the group members in the two environments. Ten groups of three people each, who had never met before, met first in a shared VE and carried out a task that required the identification and solution of puzzles that were presented on pieces of paper displayed around the walls of a room. The puzzle involved identifying that the same-numbered words across all the pieces of paper formed a riddle or saying. The group continued this task for fifteen minutes, and then stopped to answer a questionnaire. The group then reconvened in the real world and continued the same task. The experiment also required one of the group members to continually monitor a particular one of the others in order to examine whether social discomfort could be generated within a VE. In each group, there was one immersed person with a head-mounted display and head-tracking and two non-immersed people who experienced the environment on a workstation display. The results suggest that the immersed person tended to emerge as the leader in the virtual group, but not in the real meeting. Group accord tended to be higher in the real meeting than in the virtual meeting. Socially conditioned responses such as embarrassment could be generated in the virtual meeting, even though the individuals were presented to one another by very simple avatars. The study also found a positive relationship between presence of being in a place and copresence—the sense of being with the other people. Accord in the group increased with presence, the performance of the group, and the presence of women in the group. The study is seen as part of a much larger planned study, for which this experiment was used to begin to understand the issues involved in comparing real and virtual meetings.

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