Virtually real emotions and the paradox of fiction: Implications for the use of virtual environments in psychological research

Philosophical Psychology 23 (1):1-21 (2010)
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Many of the psychological studies carried out within virtual environments are motivated by the idea that virtual research findings are generalizable to the non-virtual world. This idea is vulnerable to the paradox of fiction, which questions whether it is possible to express genuine emotion toward a character (or event) known to be fictitious. As many of these virtual studies are designed to elicit, broadly speaking, emotional responses through interactions with fictional characters (avatars) or objects/places, the issue raised by the paradox seems particularly apt. This paper assesses the extent to which the paradox of fiction constitutes a legitimate challenge to psychological research within virtual environments, and argues that any alleged conflict is in fact a product of an overly simplistic view of emotions which a more complete understanding resolves. Moreover, through a more detailed analysis of why the paradox cannot be sustained, one finds justification for the claim that emotions elicited through interactions with virtual (fictitious) objects/events are valid. However, their generalizability to the non-virtual world must still be treated with caution



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