Interesting Link between Virtual Avatars and Real Behavior Discovered
For anyone who plays video games, we are familiar with using an avatar to affect the virtual environment. As we play we can also start to be immersed into the game and the avatar. Now researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as reported by the Association for Psychological Science, have found an interesting link between our behavior and virtual avatars.
The researchers got 194 undergraduates to participate in, what they thought were two unrelated studies. The first had them randomly assigned to fight enemies in a video game as Superman, Voldemort, or as a circle for five minutes. Superman is a heroic avatar, Voldemort a villainous one, and a circle is just a neutral circle. The participants were then part of a blind taste test involving chocolate and chili sauce, and an intriguing twist. The participants could choose one of the foods to pour into a plastic dish a future participant would have to consume. Those who played as Superman poured out almost twice as much chocolate as chili sauce, and significantly more chocolate than anyone else. Those who played as Voldemort behaved similarly, but with the chili sauce instead of the chocolate. Interestingly the participants' identification with the avatar did not seem to affect their behavior.
Currently these findings are preliminary, but could have some interesting impacts for social behavior. After all, in video games and other virtual environments, one can do almost anything, and whatever we do is behind a virtual mask.