News Release: SUNY Poly Research Showing Social Cues in Virtual Reality are Subordinate to Social Cues in Real Life Published In Scientific Reports

News Release: SUNY Poly Research Showing Social Cues in Virtual Reality are Subordinate to Social Cues in Real Life Published In Scientific Reports

Thursday, January 31, 2019 - 14:39
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Dr. Gallup

For Release: Immediate – January 31, 2019
Contact: Steve Ference, Director of University Communications
(518) 956-7319 |

SUNY Poly Assistant Professor Andrew Gallup, in collaboration with researchers at the University of British Columbia, focus on how social cues influence yawning within different environments

UTICA, NY – Collaborative research by SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly) Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Andrew Gallup, in partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC), reveals that human behavior in virtual reality (VR) can be altered by social cues in the real world, but that the same cues placed in VR leave behavior unchanged, and this study was recently published in the prestigious Scientific Reports.

“On behalf of SUNY Poly, I extend my congratulations to Dr. Gallup and the collaborating researchers at UBC who have gained new insight into human behavior, which is important as we seek to understand the impact of greater utilization of increasing numbers of virtual reality applications,” said SUNY Poly Interim President Dr. Grace Wang. “This research showcases SUNY Poly’s world-class faculty and the knowledge we can attain through a cross-disciplinary approach to education and research.”

More specifically, Dr. Gallup, with UBC Psychology Professor Dr. Alan Kingstone and his team, first sought to determine whether contagious yawning could be induced in VR. The researchers discovered that it could; participants in the study yawned contagiously in the VR environment at similar rates to contagious yawning in real contexts. The researchers then examined how cues of being watched altered this response. Any “social presence” would be expected to lower the yawn rate due to social stigma attached to yawning in front of others; in real life this is what happened. Knowledge that another person was present in the testing room completely inhibited contagious yawning among study participants, even though they were wearing VR headsets and unable to detect any social cues during the experiment. However, yawning rates were unaffected by an increased “social presence” of on-looking avatars or recording devices embedded within the VR environment itself.

“This study shows that social factors are perceived quite differently in real world and virtual environments, and that the mere presence of another person in real-life can significantly impact the way people respond in VR,” said Dr. Gallup. “These findings could have major implications for the burgeoning field of mixed reality.”

The research was funded in part by grants awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada through UBC. It was recently published by Scientific Reports, an online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal from the publishers of Nature.


About SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly)
SUNY Poly is New York’s globally recognized, high-tech educational ecosystem. SUNY Poly offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in the emerging disciplines of nanoscience and nanoengineering, as well as cutting-edge nanobioscience and nanoeconomics programs at its Albany campus, and undergraduate and graduate degrees in technology, including engineering, cybersecurity, computer science, and the engineering technologies; professional studies, including business, communication, and nursing; and arts and sciences, including natural sciences, mathematics, humanities, and social sciences at its Utica/Rome campus; thriving athletic, recreational, and cultural programs, events, and activities complement the campus experience. As the world’s most advanced, university-driven research enterprise, SUNY Poly boasts billions of dollars in high-tech investments and hundreds of corporate partners since its inception. For information visit