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RESEARCH BLOG #5: Avatars and Psychology

Grohol investigates the following question: “Do people represent themselves for who they are; do they take on different personality characteristics while in their online persona?” A person’s choice of avatar—the “pictorial representation of themselves in an online environment— can be examined to find answers. Grohol references a study done by Yee and Bailenson (I am already using Yee as one of my sources, so this was helpful and relative). Yee and Bailenson “observed the effect of an altered self-representation on behavior” and Grohol summarizes their findings: “participants who had more attractive avatars exhibited increased self-disclosure and were more willing to approach opposite gendered strangers after less than one minute of exposure to their altered avatar.” Ultimately, the attractiveness of an avatar determined how intimate participants were willing to be with strangers (Much like in real life). Height, for example, was a defining physical trait that impacted confidence level of players using their avatar’s to interact socially. “Both the height and the attractiveness of an avatar in an online game were significant predictors of the player’s performance” (Grohol). These laboratory online settings were also extended to face-to-face interactions, and the same concepts apply. The major point here: “our virtual bodies can change how we interact with others”—in an avatar based online communication, as well as a face to face interaction (Grohol).  Emotional Investment and Social presence were also measured in Yee and Bailenson’s study. “Social Presence” measures how connected a player feels to their online environment. When visual and behavioral realism matched, (attractiveness matched expectations of attractiveness” [Grohol]) a participant’s sense of social presence increased. The study also found that attractiveness in avatars is naturally accompanied by height—not unlike the real world. The bottom line: Avatars can impact how a player behaves and interacts online, just like their physical body can determine the same in real life.


Grohol, John M. “The Proteus Effect: How our Avatar Changes Online Behavior.” Psych Central. Psychcentral.com. 27 June. 2013. Web. 22 June. 2013.



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