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An Examination of a Theory of Embodied Social Presence in Virtual Worlds


  • We acknowledge and thank the Engineering Online Education (EOL) program at Iowa State University for supporting this research through the purchase and maintenance of the Second Life Island on which these data were collected. Our gratitude also extends to the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Iowa State University, an academic unit that provided pedagogical support for the courses taught by the first author. Finally, we are grateful to Andy Luse and Jon Kelly and the anonymous reviewers and editors for their input and recommendations on earlier versions of this paper.

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In this article, we discuss and empirically examine the importance of embodiment, context, and spatial proximity as they pertain to collaborative interaction and task completion in virtual environments. Specifically, we introduce the embodied social presence (ESP) theory as a framework to account for a higher level of perceptual engagement that users experience as they engage in activity-based social interaction in virtual environments. The ESP theory builds on the analysis of reflection data from Second Life users to explain the process by which perceptions of ESP are realized. We proceed to describe implications of ESP for collaboration and other organizational functions.

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