Actor-Observer Asymmetry in Virtual Reality

Shuo Zhou*, Andrea Stevenson Won

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Actors and observers attend to different aspects of behavior, leading them to interpret the same event in distinct ways. Virtual reality technology enables users to easily switch their visual perspective and modify an avatar to represent users’ own or another’s identity. We conducted a pilot study (n = 69) and a pre-registered main study (n = 101) manipulating visual perspective and avatar identity to investigate their impacts on actor–observer asymmetry. We designed a ball-tossing game in an immersive virtual environment as a test case. Actor–observer differences were captured from four dimensions: participants’ engagement with the virtual event, behavior explanations, behavior evaluations, and perceived agency. Results showed that visual perspective was an important factor influencing people’s virtual experience. Viewing events from the first-person visual perspective increased event engagement indicated by greater self-presence in the virtual world and self-avatar merging. Participants with the third-person visual perspective judged avatar behavior more intentional and used more subjective reasons to explain it. People embodied in an avatar that resembled the self had more positive evaluations of the avatar’s behavior than those embodied in a stranger avatar. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of actor–observer asymmetry in virtual reality.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Media Psychology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 May 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication
  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology

User-Defined Keywords

  • actor–observer bias/asymmetry
  • behavior explanations
  • identity
  • virtual reality
  • visual perspective


Dive into the research topics of 'Actor-Observer Asymmetry in Virtual Reality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this