VIAPPL – a Virtual Interaction APPLication for behavioural research

VIAPPL is a software platform that allows researchers to conduct experiments in social interaction. Since social interaction is the foundation of social life this platform allows researchers to test a wide range of social and psychological hypothesis.

Recent developments in social psychology have highlighted the strategic nature of social action, that social identities and norms emerge in interaction, and the need for dynamic explanations of the conservation and change of social structures and outcomes. VIAPPL is an experimental technology for conducting such research.

VIAPPL allows researchers to observe the evolution of social structures (such as norms, networks and identities), interaction patterns, and social outcomes like exclusion, inequality and ingroup favoritism.

The platform allows the collection of individual data via computer-based surveys as well as social network data capturing the patterns of interaction during an experiment.

The game environment:

Participants are represented as avatars in the game-like VIAPPL environment. The participants interact by (1) exchanging tokens over a series of rounds which can be nested in one or more trials and (2) messaging via chat. Key variables can be manipulated across trials and experimental conditions. Experiments can include commons with customizable payoffs and collectives, which can be negotiated by players.

Expectations about how to act and treat others become sedimented in action, round by round, to produce emergent norms such as ingroup favoritism and fairness, and outcomes such as individual and group inequality.

Why this is important:

History teaches us that change is the only constant; and that social norms and meanings emerge through interaction. Social psychology and the behavioural sciences so far have relied on between-group analyses of individual difference that are oriented towards studying stasis and conformity. VIAPPL offers a platform that potentially allows us to explore how social norms, practices and meanings emerge through interaction in a controlled environment that allows true experiments. This will allow us to study: how meaning, norms and practices emerge through interaction in networks; how individual agency and network position intersect to produce power; how individual perceptions of social situations relate to network stricture and network position.

This research paradigm will have relevance to studies of: intergroup conflict; extremism; national identity; migration and acculturation; altruism and helping behaviour; collective action; health behaviour; economic behaviour; attitude change; leadership studies amongst many others.

For more information contact Dr Mike Quayle ( or Prof. Kevin Durrheim (

This project is funded by the South African National research foundation under the Blue Skies programme.