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Collaboration in the Virtual World

Why Study Children's Virtual Social Interactions?

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased our reliance on social interactions that occur in the virtual environment.  From online schooling, to Zoom business meetings, to VR gaming, our environment is changing.


As developmental psychologists, we are interested in how children develop within their environments -- how do nature and nurture interact? Most of our existing theories are based on development within the physical environment, but what will development look like when a meaningful portion of a child's environment is virtual?

Our team has been studying the development of cooperation (helping, sharing, comforting) during in-person social interactions for many years.


With the pandemic, we switched to online studies. This was a challenge, but we now see it as an opportunity to explore how children collaborate online. We believe that this work will not only impact developmental theory, but it will also influence how researchers design their studies and how gaming companies think about the experiences of their youngest users.

Current Study: Sharing in the Virtual World


We're studying how children's sharing behaviour unfolds in the virtual, online world.

To do so, team leader Sylvia Pinheiro MSc. created an interactive video game using the JavaScript and HTML-5 based Construct gaming engine. Children earn virtual coins and interact with peers and adults.

Some questions that interest us are: How do children become more adult-like in their sharing? How do culture and socio-economic status impact sharing? How is sharing different during synchronous and asynchronous interactions? What aspects of game design influence children's sharing?

Current Study: Adapting Developmental Psychology Research to the Virtual World (A User Experience Study)


Due to the pandemic, the study of cognitive development shifted online, and many researchers report that they will continue to work within the virtual environment even post-pandemic (Shore et al., in prep.). 

We are analyzing survey responses from a large sample of developmental psychologists around the world to examine how our field is incorporating online methods.  What platforms are being used? How can these systems be improved to better suit the needs and coding experience of most researchers? How can these systems maximize flexibility for use with toddlers through teenagers?

Future Studies


One of our long-term goals is to connect industry with developmental scientists to improve the experience of the youngest users of technology.  

What motivates children to be cooperative in the online environment? How do children defend people who are bullied?

How do children understand virtual coins and micro-transactions?

How can the user experience of developmental scientists be improved? What features would encourage uptake from the research community?

Research Team Leaders

Research Team

Queen's University:

Dr. Taigan MacGowan, Montana Shore, Brendan Hancock, Danielle Bukovsky, Sara Jones, Emma Liptrot, Lexie Piccolo

LECH, Brazil:

Dr. Fivia Lopes

UFPA, Brazil:

Dr. Natalia Dutra

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