Avatars can portray a very real and precise depiction of a person's true personality in the virtual world, a new study has revealed.
Dr. H. Onur Bodur of Concordia University and his colleagues used the sophisticated avatar-based community Second Life as their model for the study, which has its own economy and facilitates real-money transactions.
The membership of Second Life has increased more than 20 fold between 2006 and 2009 to reach 15 million, and many real-world companies (e.g., Adidas, American Apparel, Dell, Nike, and Toyota) have appeared in Second Life.
Members of the community use particular avatar traits or visual cues, such as attractiveness, gender, stylish hair, or expression ("babyfaceness" is associated with cooperation), to form impressions or opinions about the human behind the avatar.
The researchers argue that well-known psychological principles such as Social Response Theory (SRT) and anthropomorphism come into play at this stage of discovery and discernment.
Bodur's study finds that these impressions, based solely on fairly limited or superficial traits of the avatar, may accurately match the true personality of the real person behind the avatar.
According to Dr. Bodur: "This research, which aligns with other research that says that accurate impressions can be formed through access to very limited information, such as images of someone's dorm room, work space, or website. This and future research can show whether online presentations of consumers (e.g., avatars) can be used to identify and segment consumers."
This study appears in the journal Psychology and Marketing.