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5.3B: Role Theory

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    Learning Objectives

    • Explain how the development and fulfillment of particular roles within society (both occupational and relational) relates to a person’s behavior

    A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another. Individuals create online representations of themselves called avatars that can interact on the internet under direction of the avatar’s creator. Such modeled worlds and their rules may draw from reality or fantasy worlds. Example rules are gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions and communication.

    Social interaction between users can range from communication via text, graphical icons, visual gesture, sound, touch, voice command, and balance senses. Many MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) have real-time actions and communication. Players create a character who travels between buildings, towns and worlds to carry out business or leisure activities. Communication is usually textual, but real-time voice communication is also possible.

    Many studies of virtual worlds have questioned the virtual world’s ability to convey nuanced emotional messages as people do in face-to-face interactions. Certainly, users have developed techniques in the virtual world to communicate emotion. Beyond writing messages, users can communicate using emoticons, or simple “smilies” that visually depict simple emotions. While emoticons obviously do not convey the same range of mixed emotions as a human face, it is clear that participants in virtual worlds are innovating with language and images to develop new forms of communication.

    Another aspect of social interaction in virtual worlds is variation of interactions between participants. While interaction with other participants in virtual worlds can often be done in real-time, time consistency is not always maintained in online virtual worlds.

    Although the social interactions of participants in virtual worlds are often viewed in the context of online games, other forms of interaction are common. These include forums, wikis, chat rooms and video-conferences. Communities are born which have their own rules, topics, jokes and even language. Members of such communities can find like-minded people to interact with, whether this be through a shared passion, the wish to share information, or a desire to meet new people and experience new things.

    Elderly Women Gathering: This image shows that elderly people can be active, social, and in good spirits.

    Key Points

    • A role is a set of rules or norms that function as plans or blueprints to guide behavior within a particular society.
    • Roles can be occupational or relational. An occupational role relates to a person’s individual function (for example, a profession). A relational role governs how the individual behaves towards others (for example, being a father or a boss).
    • Role theory is structural functionalist in that it seeks to explain human behavior by looking at what social function is fulfilled by holding a given role.
    • Role theory suggests that a substantial proportion of observable, day-to-day behavior is simply people carrying out roles and negotiating which role to prioritize. Once you understand someone’s role and which of their many roles they are prioritizing, you can predict how they are going to behave.

    Key Terms

    • self-neglect: It refers to behaviors that threaten the person’s own health and safety.
    • abuse: Physical or verbal maltreatment; injury.

    5.3B: Role Theory is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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