Investigating social comparison behaviour in an immersive virtual reality classroom based on eye-movement data

Scientific Reports(2023)

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Higher-achieving peers have repeatedly been found to negatively impact students’ evaluations of their own academic abilities (i.e., Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect). Building on social comparison theory, this pattern is assumed to result from students comparing themselves to their classmates; however, based on existing research designs, it remains unclear how exactly students make use of social comparison information in the classroom. To determine the extent to which students ( N = 353 sixth graders) actively attend and respond to social comparison information in the form of peers’ achievement-related behaviour, we used eye-tracking data from an immersive virtual reality (IVR) classroom. IVR classrooms offer unprecedented opportunities for psychological classroom research as they allow to integrate authentic classroom scenarios with maximum experimental control. In the present study, we experimentally varied virtual classmates’ achievement-related behaviour (i.e., their hand-raising in response to the teacher’s questions) during instruction, and students’ eye and gaze data showed that they actively processed this social comparison information. Students who attended more to social comparison information (as indicated by more frequent and longer gaze durations at peer learners) had less favourable self-evaluations. We discuss implications for the future use of IVR environments to study behaviours in the classroom and beyond.
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