An interesting study by Edward Castronova over at Indiana and Gert G. Wagner at Berlin University of Technology came out this summer in the social sciences journal Kyklos. Castronova and Wagner examined life satisfaction ratings from the 2005 World Values Survey and another survey of life satisfaction among Second Life players. Subjecting both sets of data to regression analysis showed correlations between difficult problems in real life leading to a more intense time online. Here’s their abstract:
We study life satisfaction data from the 2005 World Values Survey and a 2009 survey of users of the virtual world Second Life. Among Second Life users, satisfaction with their virtual life is higher than satisfaction with their real life. Regression analysis indicates that people in certain life situations, such as unemployment, gain more life satisfaction from “switching” to the virtual world than from changing their real-life circumstances. Thus, an unemployed person can become happier by visiting Second Life rather than finding a job. Correspondingly, problems in real life are positive predictors of intense use of virtual life.
It’s one of those “I could have told you that,” studies. The importance of the study is, now you can say “Research shows that people with real life difficulties tend to gain greater satisfaction in virtual worlds.” Castronova sums it nicely on the Terra Nova blog:
We are not finding any causal effects here, just correlations. What’s noteworthy is the magnitude of the correlations. Second Life is providing a big chunk of life satisfaction, just as big as the factors that previous researchers on life satisfaction have found were the “biggies,” like health, employment, and family relationships. (By the way, in case you didn’t know, money does not make you happy.)
Castronova, E. & Wagner, G. E. (2011, August). Virtual life satisfaction. Kyklos 64(3). 313-328.