Bonding with your virtual self may alter your actual perceptions

May 02, 2013

When people create and modify their virtual reality avatars, the hardships faced by their alter egos can influence how they perceive virtual environments, according to researchers.

A group of students who saw that a backpack was attached to an avatar that they had created overestimated the heights of virtual hills, just as people in real life tend to overestimate heights and distances while carrying extra weight, according to Sangseok You, a doctoral student in the school of information, University of Michigan.

"You exert more of your agency through an avatar when you design it yourself," said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, Penn State, who worked with You. "Your identity mixes in with the identity of that avatar and, as a result, your of the virtual environment is colored by the physical resources of your avatar."

Researchers assigned random avatars to one group of participants, but allowed another group to customize their avatars. In each of these two groups, half of the participants saw that their avatar had a backpack, while the other half had avatars without backpacks, according to You.

When placed in a virtual environment with three hills of different heights and angles of incline, participants who customized their avatars perceived those hills as higher and steeper than participants who were assigned avatars by the researchers, Sundar said. They also overestimated the amount of calories it would take to hike up the hill if their custom avatar had a backpack.

"If your avatar is carrying a backpack, you feel like you are going to have trouble climbing that hill, but this only happens when you customize the avatar," said Sundar.

The researchers, who present their findings at 2013 Annual Conference on in in Paris today (May 2) recruited 121 college-aged participants—58 female and 63 male—from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea, to take part in the study. The students entered a lab and were asked to evaluate the hills. To keep the students from guessing why the researchers added a backpack, they created a cover story saying the backpack made the hiking experience as lifelike as possible.

Sundar said the study may help trainers and game developers design virtual reality exercises and games that are more realistic and more immersive. For instance, just as participants who customized their avatars with a backpack in this study changed their perception of their virtual environment, people with disabilities may feel more empowered designing their own avatars to have physical aids to navigate a . Soldiers may want to create their own avatars to better simulate their perceptions of actual conditions in virtual reality exercises.

"Because building avatar identity is critical, it's important to let users customize it," Sundar said. "You are your avatar when it is customized." Future research will look at whether altering more elements of the users' will lead to more extensive changes in how people perceive virtual environments.

Explore further: How to find a submarine

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New research: What does your avatar say about you?

Jul 26, 2010

Old or young, beautiful or sinister - the choices are endless when designing an avatar or a virtual alter ego. In the end, do people choose one that is really different from themselves? Usually not, according to new Concordia ...

Virtual self can affect reality self

Jan 24, 2011

If you spend a lot of time online, you may even have an electronic alter ego--an avatar. An avatar is a movable image that people design to represent themselves in virtual reality environments or in cyberspace.

Research shows avatars can negatively affect users

Nov 10, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Although often seen as an inconsequential feature of digital technologies, one's self-representation, or avatar, in a virtual environment can affect the user's thoughts, according to research by a University ...

Recommended for you

Christian Bale to play Apple's Steve Jobs

15 hours ago

Oscar-winner Christian Bale—best known for his star turn as Batman in the blockbuster "Dark Knight" films—will play Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in an upcoming biopic.

How to find a submarine

19 hours ago

Das Boot, The Hunt for Red October, The Bedford Incident, We Dive At Dawn: films based on submariners' experience reflect the tense and unusual nature of undersea warfare – where it is often not how well ...

Government ups air bag warning to 7.8M vehicles (Update)

Oct 22, 2014

The U.S. government is now urging owners of nearly 8 million cars and trucks to have the air bags repaired because of potential danger to drivers and passengers. But the effort is being complicated by confusing ...

HP supercomputer at NREL garners top honor

Oct 21, 2014

A supercomputer created by Hewlett-Packard (HP) and the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that uses warm water to cool its servers, and then re-uses that water to heat its building, has been ...

User comments : 0