Virtual Reality has long been proposed to combine the reliability of controlled laboratory settings with the ecological validity of real life. While the technological development steadily pushes towards even more realistic renderings of the real world—the elusiveness of social and emotional elements gradually becomes more evident. This is not the least true for behavioral studies in rich sociocultural contexts. This article examines the outcomes of a study on distractions, taking place in a socially rich context—the classroom. The study made use of a Virtual Reality environment simulating a junior high school lesson, where the Distraction condition consisted of peers watching nonrelevant content on their laptops. In the control condition these laptops were closed. No significant distraction effects were found, neither on learning nor behavior. Given the strong support in the literature for such effects, the study design, including technical aspects, is scrutinized and discussed. We specifically highlight the difficulty of simulating a social relationship between the participant and agents in VR, which in this case makes the distraction stimulus significantly weaker. It is argued that the distraction effect of nearby peers’ laptop use relies (partly) on shared attention with social agents with an established social relation and common interests.

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