Paper accepted by Computers in Human Behavior.
Virtual (Freedom From) Reality: Evaluation Apprehension and Leaders’ Preference for Communicating Through Avatars
Virtual reality is spreading rapidly as an emerging communication tool in organizations. The present research examines when and why leaders might prefer interacting with their subordinates virtually, via computer avatars (graphical computer representations of humans), as opposed to through face-to-face interactions. We examine this question in the context of monitoring and seek to understand the underlying psychology that drives leaders’ preferences for interacting via avatars. Across two experiments, we tested our predictions that (1) leaders would prefer interacting via avatars in contexts that require frequent monitoring, and (2) this preference is driven by concerns about negative social evaluation. Results supported our predictions, indicating that leaders preferred interacting via avatars when concerned about negative social evaluation (Experiments 1 and 2). We also explored the role of personality on this effect (Experiment 2). Theoretical implications for the psychology of leadership in the digital era and the adoption of novel technologies are discussed.