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Virtual peer pressure can also spark competition


New York: Seeing a friend or colleague succeed at a task can boost your effort, says a new study, adding that virtual pressure from a computer-simulated peer can also be motivating.

Maurizio Porfiri, Professor at New York University Tandon School of Engineering designed an experiment to test whether virtual peer pressure could boost individual participation in a citizen science project — Brooklyn Atlantis.

The research team redesigned the interface of the Brooklyn Atlantis page where users view and tag images, adding an indicator bar at the top of the screen to display the number of times another participant had tagged the same image.

This was the performance of the virtual peer, and the researchers created five distinct scenarios for the virtual peer’s performance.

Splitting the 120 participants, they formed a control group with no virtual peer and two groups for which the virtual peer’s performance varied according to an independent algorithm.

For the three remaining groups, the virtual peer’s performance varied in relation to the user: One consistently underperformed the real user, one consistently outperformed, and the other performed on par with the real user.

The results showed that pressure from a virtual peer can influence the behaviour of a person. The ones who tagged the most objects in Brooklyn Atlantis photos were those who saw a virtual peer that consistently outperformed them.

Conversely, the group who saw a virtual peer that underperformed them contributed fewer tags than any other group, including the peer-free control group.

The group whose virtual peer matched their own level of activity also tagged more objects than a control group, indicating that perhaps the mere presence of a peer leads to increased performance.

“Social comparison is a strong driver of behaviour and it is exciting to see that even simulated performance was enough to influence our participants to tag more or fewer objects. Even more exciting was the fact that we can anticipate such a response using a mathematical model,” Porfiri said, in the paper published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology.

The real-life participants mostly mirrored the activity of the simulated participant, indicating that this sort of norm-setting may help boost participation in citizen science projects.

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