Miles Tufft, UCL
In our lab we study how social contexts structure cognition. Behaviours and their associated cognitive mechanisms do not exist in a vacuum but in a world that is naturally social and rich in context. As such we are always situated within an ongoing and dynamic interplay between our actions and the contexts in which they play out. We aim to recreate social contexts in the lab while maintaining an acceptable degree of control, allowing us to systematically investigate the relationship between higher order social factors such as social hierarchies or group membership and lower level cognitive phenomena such as interference effects. In order to do this we often manipulate participants’ expectations, deceiving them into believing they are engaged in social interactions when in reality they are not. Situational believability is therefore crucial to the validity of our manipulations. Translating this into an online environment presents its own set of unique challenges that reflect the decontextualised nature of meeting online, while at the same time presenting a number of benefits in terms of efficiency and scalability. Using examples from our current experiments, I will share our learnings and the specific methods we have adopted to turn up the social dial online. In particular, I will discuss the balance that we’ve had to strike between experimental complexity and situational believability that will lead to an ongoing sense of connection while maintaining focus and engagement.