Understanding Human Interaction with Virtual Reality

Conference at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC brings together experts from ten countries

How can virtual worlds and avatars aid in researching human social behavior? 70 researchers are exploring these and other such questions at the “Workshop on Virtual Social Interaction,” which is being held from 6–7 July 2017 at the Cluster of Excellence CITEC. Following two venues in Great Britain – University College London in 2014, and the University of Salford in Manchester in 2016 – the conference is now being hosted for the first time in Germany.

Another topic of the conference includes virtual characters such as the avatar Billie, which was developed at CITEC. Avatars can be used to help better understand human social behavior. Photo: CITEC/Bielefeld University People interact with one another virtually every second of every day, “yet our current understanding of what makes this interaction at all possible – which patterns of behavior, which thought processes and mechanisms in the brain – is limited. At this conference, we will discuss how human social interaction can be recorded and analyzed using new technologies such as virtual reality and virtual characters,” says Professor Dr. Stefan Kopp, from the Cluster of Excellence CITEC. Dr. Kopp is one of the organizers of the workshop. He specializes in computer science and cognitive science, and heads the “Cognitive Systems and Social Interaction” research group. According to Kopp, the important thing about virtual systems is that “users largely interact with them in a natural way. We can thus capture authentic behavior without having to fabricate an artificial situation.”

During the workshop, researchers from the fields of psychology, cognitive science, computer science, neuroscience, and clinical research will discuss new methods and theories of social interaction. Workshop participants hail from 10 different countries.
The program schedule includes 20 talks, including four keynote lectures. Computer scientist Dr. Gerard Pons-Moll, from the Max-Planck-Institut für Intelligente Systeme (Max-Planck-Institut for Intelligent Systems) in Stuttgart will speak on Thursday at 13:00 about “Real Virtual Humans,” describing the methods with which virtual characters can be designed to be most lifelike – so much so that they can no longer be distinguished from real humans.

Prof. Dr. Stefan Kopp, from the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) brought the international conference on social interaction to Bielefeld. Photo: CITEC/Bielefeld University Psychologist and psychotherapist Professor Dr. Andreas Mühlberger, from the University of Regensburg, will speak on Thursday at 16:00 on the topic of exposure therapy in virtual reality. This type of therapy can be used, for instance, to treat arachnophobia and help patients overcome their anxiety disorder.

Do people react differently when they are looked at by real humans or a virtual avatar? Jari Hietanen, PhD, a professor of psychology from the University of Tampere (Finland) will address this question in his keynote talk on gaze direction and attention on Friday at 9:00.

Professor Catherine Palchaud, PhD, from the  Télécom ParisTech in Paris, will give a talk on how human social and emotional behavior can be replicated in dialogue systems. Her team has recorded and analyzed more than 80 interactions in which experts communicate their specialized knowledge to non-experts by using, for instance, verbal and body language to express their expertise and social attitudes.

To organize the conference, Dr. Kopp’s research group worked together with the CITEC research group “Computer Graphics and Geometry Processing” along with the “Social and Spatial Cognition” group at the Max-Planck-Institut für biologische Kybernetik (Max-Planck-Institute for Biological Cybernetics) in Tübingen, Germany, as well as the Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie (Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy) at the Universitätsklinikum Köln (University Hospital of Cologne).

More information is available online at:
„3rd Workshop on Virtual Social Interaction”: https://sites.google.com/view/vsi2017/home
Social Cognitive Systems research group: https://scs.techfak.uni-bielefeld.de

Prof. Dr. Stefan Kopp, Bielefeld University
Cluster of Excellence CITEC
Phone: +49 521 106 12144
E-mail: skopp@techfak.uni-bielefeld.de