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People can Lose Weight and Fight Prejudice Via 'Virtual Avatar'

by Kathy Jones on November 10, 2012 at 4:46 PM
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 People can Lose Weight and Fight Prejudice Via 'Virtual Avatar'

A University of Missouri researcher's study says that a virtual avatar can influence a person's health and appearance.

Harnessing the power of the virtual world could lead to new forms of obesity treatment and help break down racial and sexual prejudices, they suggested.

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"The creation of an avatar allows an individual to try on a new appearance and persona, with little risk or effort," said Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, assistant professor of communication in MU's College of Arts and Science.

"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," she explained.
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In Behm-Morawitz's study, 279 users of a virtual reality community, Second Life, answered a questionnaire about their engagement with their avatar and relationships they developed online, as well as their offline health, appearance and emotional well-being.

Self-presence, or the degree to which users experienced their avatars as an extension of themselves, was found to predict the influence of the avatar on people's physical reality. A strong sense of self-presence in the social virtual world positively promoted health and well-being of study participants.

People with high degrees of self-presence in the cyber world reported that their experience with their avatar improved how they felt about themselves offline. Self-presence also correlated to greater satisfaction with online relationships.

"This study found no evidence of negative effects of a high degree of self-presence in the virtual world on study participants; however, that doesn't rule out the possibility," said Behm-Morowitz.

"Users should practice moderation. Virtual entertainment, like other forms of diversion such as books or television, can be used in unhealthy ways," she noted.

Further research by Behm-Morawitz on virtual worlds will look at how avatars may be used to encourage tolerance of diversity.

The study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Source: ANI
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