Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Empathy, Whites-Psychology, Intercultural communication, Internet-Social aspects, SecondLife (Game), Racism, Whites-Race identity, Whites-Race identity-Study and teaching, Role playing, Cyberspace-Psychological aspects, Race, Whiteness studies, Racial identity, Internet socialization, Online gaming, Colorblind racism, Symbolic racism, MMORPG, Post-racialism


This mixed-methods, exploratory study was conducted to investigate two areas of inquiry: (1) whether the experience of playing SecondLife™ as an avatar of color had an impact on White-identified Americans' beliefs and values about race and racism; and (2) what participants identified as relevant to their process of developing empathy for people of color and acknowledgment of racism. Seven self-identified White adult Americans completed pre- and post-experiment measures of colorblind and symbolic racism as well as 6 non-consecutive hours over the course of one month, and then participated in a qualitative interview to reflect on the process. The study investigator hypothesized that participants would experience a decrease in scores on each measure as a result of the experiment. Participants experienced some variation between pre- and post-experiment measures of racism, however, 2-tailed t-tests demonstrated no statistical significance between the pre- and post-experiment scores; similarly, a Pearson's R test demonstrated no statistical significance in a bivariate analysis of participant demographics and rate of change. Thematic analysis of qualitative data using open coding demonstrated that participants perceived differences in social relationships based on avatar color and that participants tended to externalize causality for scores indicating a higher alliance with racist attitudes and beliefs, whereas they tended to internalize causality where their scores showed decreased alliance with racist attitudes and beliefs. It is recommended that future studies recruit more participants in order to establish statistical significance for the pre- and post-experiment measurements of racism, and increase demographic data in order to protect internal validity.




iv, 46 p. : col. ill. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, 2013. Includes bibliographical references (p. 33-37)