CBBM Lecture "Virtual ethology: using virtual reality to study human affect and social behavior "

by Cade McCall, PhD,

Department of Social Neuroscience,

Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences Leipzig

This lecture will take place on December 1, 2015 from 17:15 to 18:15 hours in Lecture Hall H1, Turmgebäude.

Host: Prof. Sören Krach
Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy
University of Lübeck


We live in complex environments that are full of people and things that make us feel good, bad, or indifferent. What we choose to observe, ignore, approach and avoid in these environments likely reveals a great deal about our motivations and affective states. Nevertheless, affective science rarely examines unconstrained gaze and movement, both because of the necessity of experimental control and the challenge of measurement. But unlike traditional experimental platforms, immersive virtual reality allows participants to freely explore and interact with complex but controlled three-dimensional scenes. Digital motion tracking further provides precise and continuous measurement of behavior while participants are inside of these environments. Over the course of this talk, I will discuss two lines of research that employ these technologies to study human affect and social responses. In the first of these, I will present evidence that subtle differences in gaze and social distance during face-to-face interactions reveal interpersonal attitudes and, further, predict more substantive behaviors such as aggression. In the second, I will present evidence that individuals use movement and gaze to regulate their emotions when they explore threatening or emotionally evocative environments. Together these data illustrate that affect spontaneously shapes our use of space. They further illustrate the benefits of using virtual reality to study feelings and emotions as they naturalistically unfold. 


Academic Education

2003M.A. in PsychologyGraduate Faculty, New School University, New York City, USA
2009PhD in Social PsychologyUniversity of California, Santa Barbara, USA


1997 - 2001Public Health Research AssistantUniversity of California, San Francisco, USA
2003 - 2009Graduate Student Research/Teaching AssistantUniversity of California, Santa Barbara, USA

2009 - 2010

Since 2010

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA, Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies

Research Group Leader, Virtual Reality Lab
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig