Your Second Life Avatar May Impact How You Act In Real Life

from the you-mean-second-life-may-have-a-purpose? dept

Slashdot points us to a clip from NPR’s All Things Considered discussing some research out of Stanford about how the appearance of your virtual avatar may impact your actions in real life. In the story, two examples are given. The first is showing a thinner version of you, and letting you see the avatar exercising and getting thinner. Apparently, being able to see that (very fast) “cause-and-effect” really does drive people to exercise more. The second is that if someone has a “more attractive” avatar within a virtual world, once they leave that virtual world, they’re more likely to have higher self-esteem and believe that they’re better looking in real life as well. In the study given, right after leaving the virtual world, the subjects are told to create online dating profiles and pick people that they thought were their equals. Those who had more attractive avatars picked more attractive real life people as “attainable.” The researchers (of course) have their own website with more info.

While this sounds like interesting research, it seems rather early to draw many conclusions from it. In fact, I’m a little surprised that the Slashdot post about it didn’t mention the obvious parallels to questions about research on how people act after playing violent video games. That research has generally shown that it makes kids emotional, but just for a short period of time — which would make me wonder how long-term the impacts of seeing these avatars is as well. However, if the goal is to just give you a little burst of motivation to get over some self-doubt or inertia (say, to exercise), then that might not be a bad thing. Either way, the research itself is interesting — but it’s still early. It’ll be worth watching what comes out of the research down the road.

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Comments on “Your Second Life Avatar May Impact How You Act In Real Life”

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Hellsvilla (user link) says:

I got a better theory.. took me like 2 seconds

so uh, I got a better theory. how bout this.

people pick their avatars based on what they wish their physical self was like. some portion of these people actually work on improving themselves, completely independent of the game, and as a result look more like their avatars.

Back when I played WoW, I played an undead. a FEMALE undead. I played female because the males looked like they poopie in their pants when they walked. Not ONCE in real life did I ever desire to summon a demon, cut off my knees, gouge out my eyes, grow a rack. Hell, I never even wanted to trance dance.

Why? because my avatar was NOT a representation of why I wanted myself to be. It was a representation fo the character I was playing in a game. No more. (ok, it was also nice eye candy… yes, even rotting festering corpses are made to look like hotties in WoW)

Second Life Blogger (user link) says:

Re: I got a better theory.. took me like 2 seconds

There are fundamental differences between Second Life and WoW. WoW is a fantasy world with very strict use, activities, races and conduct. Second Life is a virtual reality world that in many ways mirrors real life.
It is a place where people can go and try things that they would not do in real life, including looking like a top model.
It is no secret that the way in which people are treated affects their behaviour. If someone is treated like a stunning babe for hours a day, this will eventually filter through to their real life. If anything, by realizing that when it comes down to it, looks are really not important.

Evi DeCuir says:

I think its like this. Yes many see themselves through their avi only cause they put themselves into their avi. but to say people start going to the gym and working out to look more like their avi i find far fetched. SL all in all is just a game, and besides with work, sl, and other things who has time to try and look like their avi in rl lmao

Anonymous Coward says:

ATTN: Anonymous Coward

re: your comments – this coming from someone who appears to spend nearly their entire day posting on techdirt. Listen to your own advice – log off and spend some time outside.

Re: the article – very interesting and far from a waste of money. The research and results can provide a lot of information about social behavior both in the “real” world and the “virtual” world, as well as offer more information about how they interact. Such data can have far reaching effects on understanding social behavior in general and shaping social policy.

I highly doubt that calls for it be referred to as “waste of research $$”

Anonymous Coward says:

When I played GTA:SA, all the gym/fitness system did to me was annoy me that working out in real life wasn’t nearly as efficient. Then I ate some chocolate.

But in all seriousness, it’s nice to see more technology / internet / game based research that is actually positive and not just scare mongering. Shows that people are ready to start taking them more seriously.

Ariel Black says:

I disagree..i think SL is a refuge and people actually plunge into it because they have the alternative of being attractive, rich etc. in this virtual world. I don’t find SL a motivator for active rl behaviors–I think it prevents them from happening. No video game or console, with the exception of the Wii, has ever promoted healthy active behaviors.

Studies have shown that most people have a tendency to think they are good looking as well–and who would like to think that they cannot obtain someone they find attractive?

*Does jumping jacks*

Anonymous Coward says:

You know what? Some people pick avatars completely arbitrarily, others pick avatars that look like something they’d like to see, not what they’d like to be. Very few people design their avatars to look like themselves, unless their purpose is to represent themselves (like a lawyer representing her firm in SL). The few who do are newbs, and they learn rather quickly that it’s not fun to watch your toon based on you get owned over and over, and get teabagged, and cry virtual rape. Don’t make a character based on yourself, one of the first things we were taught as geek/nerd kids playing roleplaying games.

Oscar Page (user link) says:

I beg to differ on all of this anonymous flaming from idiots who are too dense to the see the depth of the game’s concept beyond the Welcome Area or a strip club in the game.

to #8 I agree with you that it is nice to see non-game-bashing research because a storm of them are about to hit with the new GTA coming out.

to #13 I can’t find the right words for it Dwight, but I used to compare it to a 3D user-generated chatroom. I wouldn’t continue to play after 3 1/2 years in the game if it were not for the friends and business contacts that I have made. Also, at least weekly if not daily, I’m amazed at something that someone created. Just yesterday I picked up a free cinematic HUD item from a sim called Chouchou that allows your camera to follow your avatar in a slow cinematic fashion.

JT says:

Re: Re:

I think the AC caught the joke in Dwight’s post.

As for your Flickr page… Your “Second Life” pictures freak me out a bit. There’s screenshots of games, etc. and then there’s your “precious moments” with your polygon “gf” but hey … to each their own, I guess.

I do have to say that your screenshots gave me a little insight into where some of the people previously posting are coming from regarding RL. I Guess I’m a little naive to the temptations of a “second life” outside playing a game for a few hours and walking away without that kind of emotional attachment.

Oscar Page (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

LOL yes yes I forgot that Dwight was playing SecondLife in one of The Office episodes. I heard about that episode, but I missed it that night. I couldn’t look at that because of corporate filters blocking any website marked with blog.

Those are not screenshots of a game. Those are glowing and texture-moving walls in a club run by a friend of mine in the game. I will admit to the polygon gf, but with the use of Skype it’s much easier to get to know someone beyond text.

If I want a game where I can walk away with no emotional attachment, I go play Team Fortress 2. In fact, I’m about to go do that now.

Ecko says:

As a stay home mother of a teen aged daughter I’ve found second life to be a way to make mature (and not XXX, but grown-up), connections with other like-minded people. Truth be told, I have very little desire to be PTA member of the year. I’m a good mom, but I don’t always want to be *just* mom. It’s nice to be the person I am without the title of ‘Mom’. Second Life gives me that for a few hours a week.

I think this research has some valid points.
In Second Life you can virtually do things that you wouldn’t generally do in real life. It’s a confidence booster. How many times have you driven past that neat looking little cafe on your way to work and just never stopped because it wasn’t the ‘type of place people like you’ go to? People in general are afraid to explore something new to them, for fear of being judged. We miss out on a lot of good experiences in life that way. For a lot of people, SL takes that away and allows us to push against our own social boundaries.
I both socialize, and create in SL. Most times I walk away with a good dose of creative optimism. If I learned something new, or had a good productive visit to SL, I can walk away standing a bit taller, and carrying a handful more motivation then I had before.
I think that people can feel better afterward because of the feelings they experience through their avatar. Typically, people want to have a positive outlook, and outcome, in most things in life. Second Life allows for that by allowing a person to be themselves, while still being anonymous enough to not be judged too harshly.
Speaking solely for myself, I have noticed that I enjoy real life more, and have a better outlook now, then before I joined Second Life. Most of that comes from being able to create things in a world were there’s always someone willing to give you help, tips, advice, and encouragement.

(Since I randomly happened across this article, and have little interest in returning, I’ll leave you all to reply however you will. I just felt the need to throw in my opinion and personal experience. Do with it as you all please. I have 2 lives full of housework to do 😛 )

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