Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Illusion of Control in a Virtual Reality Setting

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Illusion of Control in a Virtual Reality Setting

Article excerpt

The purpose of the present research is to investigate the possibility that individuals could experience an illusion of control related to their actions in virtual reality. In one sense, all actions in a virtual reality environment are illusory; that is what makes it a virtual environment. The utility of virtual reality environments depends on the degree to which individuals believe that they are in control. We believe that investigating perception of control in a virtual reality environment could increase our understanding of how such simulations work. Further, we believe that this investigation will add to the literature on the situations in which the illusion of control has been shown to occur.

Illusion of Control

The illusion that we can control events over which we do not have control has been the topic of a great deal of research over the last four decades. In a seminal paper, Langer (1975) demonstrated that participants were willing to bet greater amounts on the outcome of a card game when they believed their opponent, a confederate, to be less competent. The outcome of the card game was purely a chance event, yet participants believed they had some control over who won. Langer reported other experiments indicating that the ability to choose options, active involvement in the game, and practice all affected participants' expectations of success.

A meta-analysis conducted two decades later indicated a consistent and moderately strong illusion of control effect across 53 studies (Presson & Benassi, 1996). The authors argued that the effect should be called an illusion of judgment, as most of the research had involved indirect measurements such as the size of a wager that participants were willing to make on a game. Presson and Benassi argued that a direct measure of the degree to which participants felt they controlled an event was necessary to label the effect an illusion of control.

What causes the feeling of control? The feeling of causing an action is characterized by three factors: priority - the thought occurred before the action; consistency - the thought is consistent with the action; and exclusivity - no other potential causes are present (Wegner & Wheatley, 1999). In other words, an individual will experience the perception of control over an action if the individual thinks about carrying out an action prior to the action occurring, the thought-about action is consistent with the action that actually occurs, and there are no other apparent reasons why that action occurred. In one study on the feeling of control, a participant and confederate jointly moved a computer mouse in a situation similar to using a Ouija board. When participants heard a word corresponding to one of the items displayed on the computer screen shortly before the confederate stopped the mouse, the participants appeared to believe that they had played a role in stopping the mouse (Wegner & Wheatley, 1999).

Numerous other examples of illusion of control have been demonstrated in the literature. Participants who placed pins in a voodoo doll representing a confederate believed they had caused that person to experience a headache, particularly when the confederate acted offensively and the participant reporting having evil thoughts about the person (Pronin, Wegner, McCarthy & Rodriguez, 2006). In another study, participants believed that their positive visualizations could affect how well another person shot a basketball. In a correlational study, individuals who reported more thoughts about a football game also felt more responsible for the outcome of the game. This was true whether or not the observer's team won (Pronin, Wegner, McCarthy & Rodriguez, 2006). In a study on internet users, participants attempted to control flashes on a computer screen (Matute, Vadillo, Vegas, & Blanco 2007). The participants experienced an illusion of control even though they were warned that the task might be uncontrollable. …

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