"Virtual Worlds Research: Consumer Behavior in Virtual Worlds" On the Relationship between My Avatar and Myself

Paul Messinger, Kristen Smirnov, Michael Bone
2008 unpublished
What is the relationship between avatars and the people they represent in terms of appearance and behavior? In this paper, we hypothesize that people (balancing motives of self-verification and self-enhancement) customize the image of their avatars to bear similarity to their real selves, but with moderate enhancements. We also hypothesize that virtual-world behavior (due to deindividuation in computer-mediated communication environments) is less restrained by normal inhibitions than real-world
more » ... behavior. Lastly, we hypothesize that people with more attractive avatars than their real selves will be somewhat more confident and extraverted in virtual worlds than they are in the real world. We examine these issues using data collected from Second Life residents using an in-world intercept method that involved recruiting respondents' avatars from a representative sample of locations. Our quantitative data indicate that, on average, people report making their avatars similar to themselves, but somewhat more attractive. And, compared to real-world behavior, respondents indicate that their virtual-world behavior is more outgoing and risk-taking and less thoughtful/more superficial. Finally, people with avatars more attractive than their real selves state that they are more outgoing, extraverted, risk-taking, and loud than their real selves (particularly if they reported being relatively low on these traits in the real world). Qualitative data from open-ended questions corroborate our hypotheses.