Virtual pressure from a computer-simulated peer is just as motivating as real peer pressure, according to researchers at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering.
Moreover, the researchers say "fake" competition can be used for the good of science.
The team formulated a mathematical model of human behavior that successfully predicted group responses across conditions. The researchers then designed an experiment to test whether virtual peer pressure could boost individual participation in a citizen science project.
They reworked the interface of a citizen science project in which users view and tag images, adding an indicator bar at the top of the screen to show the number of times another participant had tagged the same image. This was the performance of the virtual peer, and the researchers developed five different scenarios for the virtual peer's performance.
They say the highest-performing group of real participants were those who saw a virtual peer that consistently outperformed them. Conversely, the group who saw a virtual peer that underperformed them contributed less than any other group. In addition, the group whose virtual peer matched their own level of activity also outperformed the control group, potentially indicating the mere presence of a peer leads to increased performance.
From New York University
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