According to a new research carried out by specialists working with the University of Missouri, people who spend considerable amounts of time exploring virtual realities are sometimes influenced by their avatars to such an extent that they end up looking and behaving like them.
However, the researchers who looked into this issue argue that this might not be such a bad thing after all, as avatars can in fact encourage people to lose weight, lead a healthier life style and become more tolerant of those around them.
Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, presently working as an assistant professor of communication for The College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri, explains the situation as follows:
“The creation of an avatar allows an individual to try on a new appearance and persona, with little risk or effort.”
“That alter-ego can then have a positive influence on a person's life. For example, people seeking to lose weight could create fitter avatars to help visualize themselves as slimmer and healthier.”
As far as the issue of becoming more tolerant is concerned, it seems that choosing an avatar whose race or ethnicity is highly different from the player's can help the latter in overcoming various prejudices.
This happens because he is given the opportunity to relate to the world from a perspective he/she is not accustomed to.
“I am also interested in studying how using an avatar with a different race or ethnicity may increase empathy and decrease prejudice,” specialist Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz explains.
Furthermore, “This may occur through the process of identification with an avatar that is different from oneself, or through a virtual simulation that allows individuals to experience discrimination as a member of a non-dominant group might experience it.”
In spite of this study's showing that virtual realities and avatars can have a beneficial effect on an individual's psychology and personal wellbeing, researchers wish to emphasize the fact that negative effects can also manifest themselves.
This most often occurs when people abuse virtual realities, supposedly for the purpose of entertainment.