Thursday, September 01, 2011

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Academic Study: People Get More Happiness from Being in Second Life Than Good News from Real Life

Virtual Life More Happiness Than Real Life

People get more happiness from being in Second Life than they do from good news in their real life. That's the extraordinary finding of a new academic study from leading virtual world academic Edward Castronova, co-authored with Gert G. Wagner and published in the economics journal Kyklos.

In other words, Ed says on Terra Nova:

For an unemployed person, the happiness boost for going to Second Life is bigger than that for getting a job. An East German gets more of a life satisfaction increase by being in Second Life than by moving to West Germany... Second Life is providing a big chunk of life satisfaction, just as big as the factors that previous researchers on life satisfaction have found were the "biggies," like health, employment, and family relationships.

Since logging into SL is relatively easy, Castronova theorizes that "choosing Second Life over major life change would be 'rational' because virtual reality provides more of a happiness boost at less cost." I imagine that many people already in SL are making this very analysis right now, especially with the real world economy at such a low point. In fact, last year Ed speculated that the virtual economy is contributing to our real world recession.

A fascinating, if fairly unnerving conclusion. However, I'm skeptical that the conclusion is generally true, beyond SL's existing userbase. While Second Life has about 1 million active users, that represents roughly 5% of everyone who's created an SL account. For various reasons, some 15-20 million people who have considered making Second Life part of their experience over the last 8 years have ultimately chosen otherwise. Ed says the study's results have "relevant factors such as age, sex, and income accounted for", but I'd say the strongest factor is "interest in virtual reality strong enough to overcome SL's enormous learning curve and barriers to entry". Alas the report is paywalled, so I'll be contacting Professor Castronova for a follow-up soon.

Image Credit: SL style blog Mademoiselle


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Hitomi Tiponi

I couldn't find anything that suggested that either of the authors had any qualifications or experience in sociology, social psychology or psychology - so maybe this is what happens when people with economics backgrounds comment on social aspects of SL.


Hitomi - I'm a psychologist, I've just read the report and it seems fine to me. And of course Kyklos is a peer reviewed journal, so they're not going to publish rubbish.

Ignatius Onomatopoeia

@Hitomi, I'll second what Aaron said. Granted, Castronova does have a considerable background in economics. Yet his work at Indiana University (my alma mater for grad school) has ranged far into other social sciences and done so with intellectual rigor.

A fundamental principle of economics? Opportunity cost. Opportunity costs are lower in SL for lots of comparable RL activities.

I should be able to get a copy of the piece through my university's library subscriptions to online content. Looking forward to a good read.

Hamlet Au

Hitomi, "happiness" has become a huge topic for economists in recent years, check out this link for an intro:

Hitomi Tiponi

Thanks everyone - it does sound as though the report is from reputable sources. Am I right in assuming that 'happiness economics' looks at outside factors causing happiness, whereas the field of 'positive psychology' looks at the causes of happiness? I probably didn't put that too well, but that is partly because I am not sure of where the boundary lies.

Arcadia Codesmith

Games and virtual worlds are easy mode.

Want to be a fashion designer in SL? You need to learn a graphics program. (It helps if you've got a little talent and a LOT of marketing saavy).

Want to be a fashion designer in RL? Where did you go to school? Who do you know? What have you done in the past? How much did you spend on your portfolio? Well, that's all very nice dear, but perhaps you ought to go back to where you came from and design hoodies, hmmm?

Ummm... not that I'd know.

Academic Assessment

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