Virtual Avatars May Influence Real World Behavior


Heroic or villainous virtual avatars may influence how you behave towards others in the real world.

Heroic and villainous virtual avatars may influence how you behave towards others in the real world.

An avatar is a virtual embodiment of a user, or their alter ego or character, typically used in game play or as an online profile likeness tied to a screen name.

Virtual environments seemingly afford people the opportunity to be a little more audacious, rude, or unabashed in their behavior – more so than in their real lives. And the use of an avatar provides some anonymity while also allowing the user to have an idealized likeness of their techno-self engaging in simulated experiences.

Often times in game play there is a characterization of being branded either a villain or a hero depending on which avatar option you choose. Research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, says virtual experiences using these avatars online may affect how you treat every day people in the real world.

Investigators were curious whether these virtual identities – specifically taking on heroic or villainous avatars – might carry over into real life behavior. To test this, Gunwoo Yoon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his colleague co-author Patrick Vargas recruited 194 undergraduates.

Students were told they’d be participating in two seemingly unrelated studies – as they were assigned to play either as Superman (a recognized heroic avatar), Lord Voldemort (the villainous character in J. K. Rowling’s fictional Harry Potter series), or a neutral avatar. They gamed for five minutes.

In the so-called unrelated study, following their game play, participants engaged in a blind taste test. Students were asked to provide a sample of either chocolate or chili sauce to the next taste-tester.

According to Yoon in Science Daily, “Our results indicate that just five minutes of role-play in virtual environments as either a hero or villain can easily cause people to reward or punish anonymous strangers.”

It seems the students identified a little too well with their avatars.

Superman avatars poured, on average, nearly twice as much chocolate as chili sauce for the following participant. They poured excessively more chocolate than those who played as either of the other avatars.

Lord Voldemort, on the other hand, dastardly doled out nearly twice as much spicy chili sauce than chocolate, and poured significantly more chili sauce compared to the other players.

[Image: Vieeto Voom]


Megan Charles

Megan Charles is a general news and health-focus writer with a background in medicine and biotechnology. Currently she is contributing to Social News Daily and Whole Woman Health. Former credits include Indyposted, The Daily Globe, and The Inquisitr.

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