A recent study by Weibel, Wissmath and Mast (2010) examines the Big Five personality correlates of immersion in virtual environments, finding that high Openness to Experience, Neuroticism, and Extraversion are positively related to the tendency to be immersed.
Immersion is not very clearly defined in the article, so we’ll have to assume they’re using the layman’s definition – that feeling you get where the outside world fades away and your entire attention is on the game/virtual environment. This seems related to the concepts of engagement in business research and flow in psychology, although this paper makes no attempt to pull in either.
The results here are somewhat atheoretical, as there was no a priori attempt to link personality traits to specific characteristics related to immersion. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a brute force empirical approach, but it does change the sorts of conclusions that can be made. This work found that all three personality traits were related to emotional involvement (one dimension of immersion) while only Openness was related to absorption (the other dimension). Neuroticsm was also the most strongly related to emotional involvement of the three. But the specific reasons for these variables to correlate in this way (i.e. Why are neurotic people more likely to be immersed?”) are unclear.
There are certainly limitations. The research was conducted entirely via survey with a 21% response rate. Immersion is studied here as immersive tendency, a personality trait with items like, “How frequently do you find yourself closely identifying with the characters in a story line?” While the authors make a claim that this is related to immersion in “mediated environments,” it’s not clear if such general immersive tendencies would translate into actual differences in behavior, and furthermore if immersive tendencies in technology-mediated environments could be measured with items like the example given above. The low response rate also raises some concern about missingness, although the severity of this problem depends on why people were missing.
Still, the implications are interesting. If these three personality traits are related to tendencies toward immersion, and if this generalized to immersion in virtual environments, it opens up the possibility we can predict engagement level in technology-mediated training programs from personality, which would potentially affect how much trainees learned from those environments, holding all other features constant. For example, I might hypothesize from this that people high in Openness would be more engaged in a training program held in Second Life rather than in person, and would as a result experience better learning outcomes from the Second Life training program.Footnotes: