Inside out: Avatars as an indirect measure of ideal body self-presentation in females


Prior research has shown that individuals engage in impression management online, both in a social networking context and when using avatars. However, avatar creation research often directly asks participants about their creation motivations or primes a specific social context. Such direct methodologies potentially lead to biases which may give a distorted picture of how ideal characteristics are reflected in avatars. Our research used a less explicit measure to test for the expression of ideal body image during avatar creation. Female participants created two avatars in the virtual world of Second Life. For the first, participants were instructed to design an avatar that looked like themselves. For the second, participants were given no design restrictions and could design any avatar they wanted to. This first avatar acted as a baseline, to identify which attributes were the focus of change in the second. Avatar creation order was counterbalanced across participants. When given no design restrictions, participants who showed a desire to be thinner created avatars which had a lower body mass. This desire was measured after avatar creation using a standard body image scale. The generalizability of the results is discussed in the context of suggestions for future research utilising this paradigm.

avatars, body image, self-presentation, impression management, virtual reality
Author biographies

Andrew G. Thomas

Author photo Andrew Thomas is a Doctoral Researcher at Swansea University, UK. His research interests involve the evolutionary psychology of human mating behaviour, as well as cyber-psychology and online interaction.

Mark K. Johansen

Author photo Mark Johansen is a lecturer in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University. His research interests include behavior in virtual environments, categorization and mathematical models of learning.

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