Actions speak louder than looks: The effects of avatar appearance and in-game actions on subsequent prosocial behavior


Several experimental studies in recent years have shown an effect of the appearance of embodied avatars in a digital environment on subsequent behaviors in unrelated context. However, such studies often focus exclusively on the appearance of avatars, and do not consider the nature of the behavior carried out in-game. This article presents an experiment exploring the combined effects of avatar appearance and in-game behavior on subsequent prosocial behavior in an unrelated task. 120 undergraduate students from a medical and health sciences course traversed a digital environment in a roleplaying game, battling opponents (“mobs”) along the way. Using a factorial design, participants embodied either a heroic or a villainous avatar, and battled good or evil mobs. Results show that mob appearance, but not avatar appearance, affected prosocial behavior in a subsequent unrelated task. Participants having battled negative-looking mobs tended to exhibit more prosocial behavior than those having battled positive-looking mobs. These results, highlighting the potential of avatar’s behavior to influence user’s subsequent behavior, are discussed in terms of self-perception, theoretical insight and research on the Proteus effect.

Bibliographic citation

Guegan, J., Nelson, J., Lamy, L., & Buisine, S. (2020). Actions speak louder than looks: The effects of avatar appearance and in-game actions on subsequent prosocial behavior. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 14(4), Article 1. doi:


Avatar appearance; prosocial behavior; in-game behavior; Proteus effect; video games

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