Recent developments in virtual reality (VR) technology have the potential to greatly benefit behavioral research. With light and affordable head mounted displays, such as Oculus‘ Rift or HTC’s Vive, human subjects can be immersed in virtual environments. When combining this technology with tracking devices, subjects can literally move and use objects in virtual spaces, or interact with other subjects in virtual reality. VR technology allows the experimenter to observe economically relevant behavior and social interaction in a naturalistic and at the same time tightly controlled virtual environment.

Publications (peer-reviewed)

Avatars as Peers at Work

Virtual humans as co-Workers: A novel methodology to study peer effects

Özgür Gürerk | Andrea Bönsch | Thomas Kittsteiner | Andreas Staffeldt (All RWTH Aachen University)

Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, 2019, 78, pp. 17-29.

Abstract: We introduce a novel methodology to study peer effects. Using virtual reality technology, we create a naturalistic work setting in an immersive virtual environment where we embed a computer-generated virtual human as the co-worker of a human subject, both performing a sorting task at a conveyor belt. In our setup, subjects observe the virtual peer, while the virtual human is not observing them. In two treatments, human subjects observe either a low productive or a highly productive virtual peer. We find that human subjects rate their presence feeling of “being there” in the immersive virtual environment as natural. Subjects also recognize that virtual peers in our two treatments showed different productivities. We do not find a general treatment effect on productivity. However, we find that competitive subjects display higher performance when they are in the presence of a highly productive peer – compared to when they observe a low productive peer. We use tracking data to learn about the subjects’ body movements. Analyzing hand and head data, we show that competitive subjects are more careful in the sorting task than non-competitive subjects. We also discuss some VR related methodological issues.


Peers at work: Economic real-effort experiments in the presence of virtual co-workers

Andrea Bönsch*, Jonathan Wendt*, Heiko Overath*, Özgür Gürerk§, Christine Harbring§, Christian Grund§, Thomas Kittsteiner§, Torsten W. Kuhlen*

*Visual Computing Institute, RWTH Aachen University, Germany
§RWTH School of Business & Economics, RWTH Aachen University, Germany

Abstract: Traditionally, experimental economics uses controlled and incentivized field and lab experiments to analyze economic behavior. However, investigating peer effects in the classic settings is challenging due to the reflection problem: Who is influencing whom? To overcome this, we enlarge the methodological toolbox of these experiments by means of Virtual Reality. After introducing and validating a real-effort sorting task, we embed a virtual agent as peer of a human subject, who independently performs an identical sorting task. We conducted two experiments investigating (a) the subject’s productivity adjustment due to peer effects and (b) the incentive effects on competition. Our results indicate a great potential for Virtual-Reality-based economic experiments.

Citation: A. Bönsch et al., „Peers at work: Economic real-effort experiments in the presence of virtual co-workers,“ 2017 IEEE Virtual Reality (VR), Los Angeles, CA, 2017, pp. 301-302. 

Working Papers

VR demo at a conference
VR demo at a conference

Experimental Economics in Virtual Reality

Özgür Gürerk  | Andrea Bönsch | Lucas Braun | Christian Grund | Christine Harbring | Thomas Kittsteiner | Andreas Staffeldt (All RWTH Aachen University)

MPRA Paper No: 71409 | Version: 2014, revised in May 2016

Abstract: Experimental economics uses controlled and incentivized lab and field experiments to learn about economic behavior. By means of three examples, we illustrate how experiments conducted in immersive virtual environments emerge as a new methodological tool that can benefit behavioral economic research.

Download on MPRA Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Understanding the Behavioral Drivers of Execution Failures in Retail Supply Chains: An Experimental Study Using Virtual Reality

Nicole DeHoratius (University of Chicago – Booth School of Business) | Özgür Gürerk (RWTH Aachen University) | Dorothee Honhon (University of Texas at Dallas) | Kyle B. Hyndman (University of Texas at Dallas)

Chicago Booth Research Paper No. 15-47 | Version: October 19, 2015

Abstract: We conduct a real-effort experiment in an immersive virtual environment in order to quantify the role of product similarity in execution failures in a retail setting. In our experiments, subjects must identify and sort two types of products based on their observable characteristics. When the two products are very similar, performance is substantially lower (with both more sorting errors and more products left unsorted) than when the products are more dissimilar. Introducing a clear visual cue to distinguish the products improves execution when the products are dissimilar (by lowering sorting mistakes) and, even more so, when they are similar (both by reducing sorting mistakes and the number of products unsorted). In the latter case the average increase in overall performance is over 22 percentage points. Our results suggest that there may be important gains from taking ease of execution into account in the design of products, product packaging, and labeling.

Download the paper at SSRN | Watch a short clip of the experiment on YouTube

Does Virtual Reality Increase Charitable Giving? An Experimental Study

Özgür Gürerk | Alina Kasulke 

This Version: April 2018

Currently, some major non-pro fit organizations use virtual reality (VR) technology to inform the public about their causes, and for fundraising. It is assumed that 360° videos experienced with VR devices create empathy and understanding, and may increase donations. In this study, we test this new technique in a controlled lab experiment with real financial decisions. Participants fi rst perform a real effort task to earn money. Next, using a head mounted display, subjects experience a 360° video of the destroyed city of Aleppo. Finally, the participants are given the possibility to donate to a local organization helping refugees. We fi nd, compared to a written ask treatment, VR increases both the percentage of givers (by 15% points) and the amount of donations (40% more). A control treatment showing the same 360° video on a 2D monitor is not as effective as the VR condition. The differences in donation behavior between the VR treatment and the written ask are mainly driven by women’s decisions.

Download the paper at SSRN