Graduate School for Social Research, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology Polish Academy of Sciences
SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Faculty in Sopot
The article presents results of three experiments investigating whether a virtual social presence (virtual assistant) has a similar influence on task performance as the physical presence of another human. The experiments were designed based on Zajonc’s (1965, 1980) theory of social facilitation and social inhibition. Three levels of task difficulty were used. Two aspects of task performance – motor and cognitive – were taken into consideration, with expectations of different effects of social presence on both. Two experiments confirmed the activating impact of the presence of a real person on the speed of difficult task performance, and one of them – also identical influence of a virtual assistant. The third experiment revealed differences in accuracy in a very difficult task depending on observation by a human observer or by a virtual assistant. However, it was impossible to prove fully whether a virtual assistant might be a substitute for a real social presence, as its impact was observed occasionally. The results confirmed assumptions that the real social presence is impossible to ignore and influences the task performance depending on level of task difficulty. Explanation of the observed effects and directions for future research are discussed.
Keywords: social presence, virtual social presence, virtual assistant, social facilitation, social inhibition
Cite this article as:
Zając, J., Wojciszke, B. (2016). In search of the substitute of human physical presence: The influence of virtual assistant on task performance. Psychologia Społeczna, 39, 440–457. doi: 10.7366/1896180020163905