Sexualized avatars affect the real world, researchers find

Oct 10, 2013 by Cynthia Mckelvey
Participants in an experiment in Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab used female avatars in sexualized or non-sexualized dress. Credit: Jeremy Bailenson

(Phys.org) —A Stanford study shows that after women wear sexualized avatars in a virtual reality world, they feel objectified and are more likely to accept rape myths in the real world. The research could have implications for the role of female characters in video games.

Researchers at Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab are delving into questions posed by sexualized depictions of in video games.

Specifically, do female players who use provocatively dressed avatars begin to see themselves more as objects and less as human beings? Jeremy Bailenson, the director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford, has found a way to use to answer that question.

This and other issues take on significance as the numbers of female video game players rise despite the industry's general lack of relatable female characters and as notoriously violent video games (such as the popular Rockstar Games series, Grand Theft Auto V) continue their rise in popularity.

"We often talk about violence and how it affects people who play ," Bailenson said. "I think it's equally important to think about sexualization."

Bailenson is particularly interested in the Proteus Effect: how the experience of acting in a virtual body, known as an avatar, changes people's behavior in both the virtual and real worlds. For example, when someone wears an avatar that is taller than his actual self, he will act more confidently. People who see the effects of exercise on their bodies in the will exercise more in the real world.

Proteus Effect and sexualization

Bailenson and co-author Jesse Fox published a research paper in the journal Computers in Human Behavior that examined how becoming a sexualized avatar affected women's perceptions of themselves. Participants donned helmets that blocked out the real world, immersing them in a virtual world of 3-D sight and sound. Motion sensors on their wrists and ankles allowed for the lab's many infrared cameras to record their motions as they moved identically in both worlds.

Once in the new world, each participant looked in a virtual mirror and saw herself or another woman, dressed provocatively or conservatively. The avatar's movements in the mirror perfectly copied the participant's actual physical movements, allowing her to truly feel as if she occupied that body.

The researchers then introduced a male accomplice into the virtual world to talk to the participant. What seemed like a normal, get-to-know-you conversation was actually an assessment of how much the women viewed themselves as objects. Women "wearing" the sexualized avatars bearing their likenesses talked about their bodies, hair and dress more than women in the other avatars, suggesting that they were thinking of themselves more as objects than as people.

After their time in the virtual world, the participants filled out a questionnaire rating how much they agreed with various statements. Bailenson and Fox folded rape myths such as "in the majority of rapes, the victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation" into the questionnaire. Participants rated how much they agreed or disagreed with the statements.

The participants who had worn the sexualized avatars tended to agree with rape myths more than the women who had worn the non-sexualized avatars. Women in sexualized avatars whose faces resembled their own agreed with the myths more than anyone else in the study.

Becoming the protagonist

The Entertainment Software Association estimates that across mobile, PC and console platforms, 45 percent of American gamers are female. But few game titles feature female protagonists. In many popular games in this fast-growing industry, female characters are in the minority; more often than not, they are sexualized.

Many female gamers assert that gaming culture is not welcoming to women. The website notinthekitchenanymore.com collects user-submitted accounts of sexual harassment women experience in online platforms such as Xbox Live. When women critique sexism in games and gamer culture, they are often dismissed or even bullied. Pop-culture critic Anita Sarkeesian faced a barrage of cyber-bullying – including threats of rape and death – for announcing a project examining common tropes of female characters in video games.

Some gamers maintain that virtual worlds and the real world remain mutually exclusive, but the research by Bailenson and Fox suggests differently. "It changes the way you think about yourself online and offline," Bailenson said. "It used to be passive and you watched the characters. You now enter the media and become the protagonist. You become the characters."

Explore further: Violence rates can be halved in just 30 years, say leading experts

More information: vhil.stanford.edu/pubs/2013/fo… d-virtual-selves.pdf

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User comments : 12

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Egleton
1.8 / 5 (16) Oct 10, 2013
Rubbish. I don't dress sexy but women still objectify me.
sirchick
2.5 / 5 (6) Oct 10, 2013
Can't they just let girls do what they want - goodness me everything they do they have to question the effects.

Bet they don't question it when guys pick avatars where they are topless or something. I feel bad for girls on times, they are always told their actions represent women, men are never told their actions represent men, just themselves.
Subach
3.4 / 5 (10) Oct 10, 2013
Please correct title to "Means of using small sample sizes and questionnaires with the poorly defined 1-5 agreement index to produce any result the author desires."
Thank you.
kochevnik
1.3 / 5 (12) Oct 10, 2013
"Women "wearing" the sexualized avatars bearing their likenesses talked about their bodies, hair and dress more than women in the other avatars, suggesting that they were thinking of themselves more as objects than as people."

Welcome to the West where sexuality is equated with "objectification", which is an ideological and meaningless word. Stanford has a long history of studies like these that benefit the oligarchs. Equating sex with lesbian hatred for men is basic to their agenda of making the masses more mindless and malleable

The Western feminist women is led by dykes like Gloria Steinem, an admitted and proud CIA agent

This article is GAY PROPAGANDA being outlawed in Russia
shavera
4.4 / 5 (8) Oct 10, 2013
phys.org. Where people who don't like the outcomes of a scientific study come to complain that it doesn't support their pre-existing worldview, and must somehow be internally flawed, or some grand conspiracy against them. geez people, grow up.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (11) Oct 10, 2013
@shavera phys.org. Where people who don't like the outcomes of a scientific study come to complain that it doesn't support their pre-existing worldview, and must somehow be internally flawed, or some grand conspiracy against them. geez people, grow up.

I think 150 million people know more about the issue than someone called shavera who dreams of being a shill for the Rockefellers

In shavera's baby brain a minority is oppressed and when legal protections are instated everything is wonderful. In reality the protected minority immediately copies the oppression of the majority, of which it is a part, to make society more stratified. This is what any visitor to the USA can see: Stratification of many groups representing social polarization and decay. That is exactly what the ruling class desires

And the CONINTEL technique of crying "conspiracy theory" has expired now that everyone knows the NSA is recording everything you do. It is conspiracy fact. Grow up, you fossil
VENDItardE
1.3 / 5 (12) Oct 10, 2013
Stanford.......'nuff said
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 10, 2013
So if they choose to dress like this
http://okmagazine...er-vote/

-in real life, then how would they feel?
Zera
1 / 5 (11) Oct 10, 2013
As a male I would rather be objectified for my sexuality than my ability to create wealth/support a family.

Expiorer
1 / 5 (10) Oct 11, 2013
LOL
"female players begin to see themselves as objects"
Why do you think they are that stupid?
alfie_null
5 / 5 (1) Oct 11, 2013
. . . dreams of being a shill for the Rockefellers

. . . In reality the protected minority immediately copies the oppression of the majority, of which it is a part, to make society more stratified. . . . Stratification of many groups representing social polarization and decay. That is exactly what the ruling class desires

And the CONINTEL technique of crying "conspiracy theory" has expired now that everyone knows the NSA is recording everything you do. It is conspiracy fact.

I guess in K's view, you can't win if you reside in the U.S. You're part of an oppressive ruling class, Or you are an oppressed minority with dreams of becoming oppressive. And you're probably involved in some conspiracy.

His choice of Russia as a bellwether is amusing. As I've noted before, I be critical of the U.S. government without fear of retaliation. He's oddly silent regarding Russia's faults.
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (10) Oct 13, 2013
I kinda have to stand with Dave Chappelle's comedy skit about wearing a uniform on this one...