Participants in the 3D virtual world Second Life are more satisfied with the romantic relationships they form in the virtual world than the ones in their real life, according to two studies conducted by Loyola Marymount University researchers. Even more remarkably, Second Life users who participated in the study reported that their level of sexual satisfaction with virtual world relationships was roughly equal to what they experienced in their real world relationships.
Users surveyed as part of the studies rated their virtual world relationships better in the five categories of marital satisfaction than their real-world relationships. Half of respondents felt they could communicate better with their Second Life partner than their real-life partner. One-third of respondents said they felt a "stronger connection" to their Second Life partner.
Most respondents (70%) said their Second Life relationship was like a real-life long-distance relationship, but only 19% of respondents had met their Second Life partner in person. Respondents were split evenly with regard to which type of relationship offered greater sexual satisfaction. Roughly 43% of respondents were more satisfied with sexuality in Second Life, while 42% were more satisfied with real life.
LMU professors Richard Gilbert and Nora Murphy surveyed Second Life users as part of the two studies. The research was conducted as part of LMU Psychology Department's PROSE (Psychological Research on Synthetic Environments) project. Other studies in the project have considered topics like how students learn in virtual worlds and how disabled users react to able-bodied avatars in Second Life.
The surveys were administered in 2009 to one group of 199 users and a second group of 217 users in LMU's PROSE project lab in Second Life. All users surveyed were involved in a romantic relationship in second life, with 71% also involved in real world relationships with someone other than their online partner. In the sexuality study, all respondents had prior sexual experiences in Second Life.
Researchers did report some respondent factors that could impact results. Most users reported Second Life relationships having a much shorter duration than their real-life relationships. If users are generally spending less time with Second Life partners, then that means fewer opportunities for arguments or miscommunication in the relationship. Second Life avatars may have any appearance, so they are likely to meet ideals of beauty and physical attractiveness better than real persons.
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