Research has shown that creating a slim and physically fit virtual avatar of oneself can give that much-needed fillip to flagging fitness plans. The study was conducted by researchers at RTI International.
The study found support for the idea that individuals are more likely to engage in physical activities in their real lives if their avatars in Second Life engage in physical activities.
"Based on these preliminary results, it seems likely that virtual reality users may adjust their identity to be consistent with that of their avatars. The public health urgency surrounding the issue of obesity means that any intervention that might possibly affect real-life health should be considered," said Elizabeth Dean, research survey methodologist at RTI and the study's lead author.
Second Life is the largest online virtual world not specifically oriented toward gaming.
For the study, the researchers interviewed 29 residents in the Second Life virtual world.
While a thin avatar interviewed half the participants, an obese avatar interviewed the other half.
The study found that participants interviewed by the thin avatar were more likely to report that their own avatar shape was thin than those interviewed by the obese avatar.
The average body mass index (BMI) reported by participants was also higher when interviewed by the obese avatar than was reported by those interviewed by the thin avatar.
The researchers also found that almost three-fourths of respondents interviewed by a thin avatar described their avatar shape as thin.
In addition, only one-third of respondents interviewed by a heavy avatar described their avatar shape as thin.Avatar-respondents are more likely to report a higher real-life BMI to a heavy avatar than to a thin avatar because a heavy avatar conveys that a higher BMI is more socially acceptable," said Dean.
The study has been published as a research-in-brief note in the latest issue of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research.