Kristina Caudle

March 16th, 2011

Do you play World of Warcraft?  Participate!

I am a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate working with William Kelley in the Brain Imaging Lab. My general research interests center on how reward and motivation interact with social information and situations in the brain.  What about social interactions do we find rewarding?  What drives us to seek out other people?  Why do we think so highly of ourselves, and struggle to maintain that positive self-image?

Currently, I study how people process information when they are engaged in virtual worlds – for example, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and even facebook and instant messaging. I use fMRI to examine how the neural correlates of self-relevant processing, social cognition, and reward coding that occur in the context of virtual environments are both similar to, and different than, those that occur in “real life.”  Specifically, I have examined how avid players of World of Warcraft represent themselves in the digital environment, and how that differs from how they represent themselves in real life. I am currently working on extending those findings into the development of a virtual self, and how that affects the experiential nature of playing online games.

I am interested in virtual environments for two reasons:  one, because an enormous and rapidly growing number of our social interactions take place via digital mediums, and the possible impact this might have on the nature of social interactions has implications for our cultural bonds will progress through the digital age; and two, because once the neural basics of how people interact with virtual environments are understood, they can act as a platform to study any number of psychological domains in a laboratory-friendly fashion.

How The Brain Sees Virtual You -  New Scientist, November 2009

Virtual You -  Dartmouth “Views from the Green” Podcast, January 2010

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