Avatars again.

After writing the last post on avatars, I found a paper by Nick Yee on the Proteus effect. This argues that our avatars shape and influence the self behind them.

Of course this isnt a new idea – primitive societies make masks and use them in dances and rituals. Yee found that “participants assigned more attractive avatars in immersive virtual environments were more intimate with confederates in a self-disclosure and interpersonal distance task than participants assigned to less attractive avatars….[and>…participants assigned taller avatars behaved more confidently in a negotiation task than participants assigned shorter avatars.”

“Thirty-two undergraduate students (16 men and 16 women) participated in the study for course credit.” (It must be hard work, getting a degree at Stanford.)

Quotes from the paper:

“The set of studies presented in this paper makes clear that our self-representations have a significant and instantaneous impact on our behavior….As we choose our self-representations in virtual environments, our selfrepresentations shape our behaviors in turn. These changes happen not over hours or weeks, but within minutes….When thousands of users interact, most of whom have chosen attractive avatars, the virtual community
may become more friendly and intimate….these behavioral changes may carry over to the physical world. If users spend over 20 hours a week in these environments, in an avatar that is tall and attractive, is an equilibrium state reached or do two separate behavioral repertoires emerge? ….And finally, we suggest that the most interesting area of research lies in the mismatch of self-representation and how others perceive us. In the traditional behavioral confirmation paradigm, the false assumptions of the perceiver are unknown to the target. Unlike the targetcentric paradigm that denies the target of their awareness of how others may stereotype them, we have shown that an individual’s false self-concept (i.e., self-stereotyping) has a significant impact on their behavior. More importantly, the false self-concept may override behavioral confirmation. In our studies, participants using attractive avatars became more intimate and friendly with strangers. This initial friendliness may elicit more positive responses from the interactant and lead to a more positive interaction overall. Thus, we hypothesize that the precise reverse of behavioral confirmation – a target’s false self-concept causes them to interact with the perceiver in a way such that the perceiver behaves in a way that confirms the target’s false selfconcept – can occur.”

This makes avatars seem like a painless version of CBT, and perhaps ties in to the use of Second Life to help people suffering from autism.

An interesting set of ideas.

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