"Talking without a Voice": Understanding Non-Verbal Communication in Social Virtual Reality

Divine Maloney, Guo Freeman, Donghee Yvette Wohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Exploring communication dynamics in digital social spaces such as massively multiplayer online games and 2D/3D virtual worlds has been a long standing concern in HCI and CSCW. As online social spaces evolve towards more natural embodied interaction, it is important to explore how non-verbal communication can be supported in more nuanced ways in these spaces and introduce new social interaction consequences. In this paper we especially focus on understanding novel non-verbal communication in social virtual reality (VR). We report findings of two empirical studies. Study 1 collected observational data to explore the types of non-verbal interactions being used naturally in social VR. Study 2 was an interview study (N=30) that investigated people's perceptions of non-verbal communication in social VR as well as the resulting interaction outcomes. This study helps address the limitations in prior literature on non-verbal communication dynamics in online social spaces. Our findings on what makes non-verbal communication in social VR unique and socially desirable extend our current understandings of the role of non-verbal communication in social interaction. We also highlight potential design implications that aim at better supporting non-verbal communication in social VR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number175
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberCSCW2
StatePublished - Oct 14 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications


  • computer-mediated communication
  • non-verbal communication
  • online social spaces
  • social dynamics
  • social virtual reality
  • social vr


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