Yee, N., Bailenson, J.N., & Ducheneaut, N. (2009). The Proteus Effect: Implications of transformed digital self-representation on online and offline behavior. Communication Research, 36 (2), 285-312.
Virtual environments allow individuals to dramatically alter their self-representation. More important, studies have shown that people infer their expected behaviors and attitudes from observing their avatar’s appearance, a phenomenon known as the Proteus effect. For example, users given taller avatars negotiated more aggressively than users given shorter avatars. Two studies are reported here that extend our understanding of this effect. The first study extends the work beyond laboratory settings to an actual online community. It was found that both the height and attractiveness of an avatar in an online game were significant predictors of the player’s performance. In the second study, it was found that the behavioral changes stemming from the virtual environment transferred to subsequent face-to-face interactions. Participants were placed in an immersive virtual environment and were given either shorter or taller avatars. They then interacted with a confederate for about 15 minutes. In addition to causing a behavioral difference within the virtual environment, the authors found that participants given taller avatars negotiated more aggressively in subsequent face-to-face interactions than participants given shorter avatars. Together, these two studies show that our virtual bodies can change how we interact with others in actual avatar-based online communities as well as in subsequent face-to-face interactions.