Fox, J., Bailenson, J.N., & Tricase, L. (2013). The embodiment of sexualized virtual selves: The Proteus effect and experiences of self-objectification via avatars. Computers in Human Behavior., 29, 930-938.
Research has indicated that many video games and virtual worlds are populated by unrealistic, hypersexualized representations of women, but the effects of embodying these representations remains understudied. The Proteus effect proposed by Yee and Bailenson (2007) suggests that embodiment may lead to shifts in self-perception both online and offline based on the avatar’s features or behaviors. A 2 × 2 experiment, the first of its kind, examined how self-perception and attitudes changed after women (N = 86) entered a fully immersive virtual environment and embodied sexualized or nonsexualized avatars which featured either the participant’s face or the face of an unknown other. Findings supported the Proteus effect. Participants who wore sexualized avatars internalized the avatar’s appearance and self-objectified, reporting more body-related thoughts than those wearing nonsexualized avatars. Participants who saw their own faces, particularly on sexualized avatars, expressed more rape myth acceptance than those in other conditions. Implications for both online and offline consequences of using sexualized avatars are discussed.