Virtual Reality for Research in Social Neuroscience

Andrea Gaggioli, Giuseppe Riva, Thomas D. Parsons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


The emergence of social neuroscience has significantly advanced our understanding of the relationship that exists between social processes and their neurobiological underpinnings. Social neuroscience research often involves the use of simple and static stimuli lacking many of the potentially important aspects of real world activities and social interactions. Whilst this research has merit, there is a growing interest in the presentation of dynamic stimuli in a manner that allows researchers to assess the integrative processes carried out by perceivers over time. Herein, we discuss the potential of virtual reality for enhancing ecological validity while maintaining experimental control in social neuroscience research. Virtual reality is a technology that allows for the creation of fully interactive, three-dimensional computerized models of social situations that can be fully controlled by the experimenter. Furthermore, the introduction of interactive virtual characters-either driven by a human or by a computer-allows the researcher to test, in a systematic and independent manner, the effects of various social cues. We first introduce key technical features and concepts related to virtual reality. Next, we discuss the potential of this technology for enhancing social neuroscience protocols, drawing on illustrative experiments from the literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-N/A
JournalBrain Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • ecological validity
  • social neuroscience
  • social presence
  • virtual characters
  • virtual reality


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