What are avatars? Edit

Avatars are digital representations of ourselves that exist in a virtual environment.  Many of these are related to online gaming or web-based chat rooms.  Some users feel as though their avatar is a reflection of self.  As a result, avatars sometimes lead to behavior changes that influence a users real-life encounters.

How do they influence human interaction? Edit

Researchers seek to investigate how these digital self-representations change our behavior.  Many studies attempted to analyze both how humans interacted in avatar based communities as well as face-to-face interactions that occur afterwards. One concept that attempts to explain why humans are comfortable maintaining an online identity facilitated by self-disclosure is embodied identity.  

What is embodied identity? Edit

Embodied Identity refers to who we are as a result of our interactions with the world around us with and through our bodies. [1] Researchers insist that embodied identity can be challenged in online environments in times when identity performances are seemingly freed from the user’s body.

Case Study:  Human tails: Ownership and control of extended humanoid avatars. Edit

An ongoing body of research is being conducted to investigate how embodied identity is performed in virtual worlds.  In an experiment utilizing the virtual world Second Life (SL), a group of entrepreneurs intentionally represented in their avatars specific attributes of their physical bodies, but that they also engaged in practices they could be found doing in real life.  This particular sample seemed to unconsciously enact embodied identities in both their ‘real’ and virtual lives..

Case Study: Performing embodied identity in virtual worlds Edit

A second study explored body ownership and control of an “extended” humanoid avatar that features a distinct and flexible tail-like appendage protruding from its coccyx. [2] This study took 32 participants and split them into two groups.  Sixteen participants experienced the avatar’s tail moving around randomly and asynchronous to their own movement, while the other participants experienced a tail that they could, potentially, control accurately and synchronously through hip movement.

As a result, participants in the synchronous condition experienced a higher degree of body ownership and agency, suggesting that synchrony enhanced the probability of ownership over the avatar body although the participants’ knew they didn’t have tails. Participants experiencing body ownership were also more likely to be more anxious and attempt to avoid virtual threats to the tail and body.

Case Study: The design of motivational agents and avatars Edit

An additional study focused on the design of avatars for enhancing motivational and emotional outcomes, such as improving self-efficacy, engagement and satisfaction. [3] The researchers found that motivational dialogue, as well as the appearance of the avatar is the most important design feature because it influences the learners’ perception of the avatar.  The message delivery, through a human-like voice with appropriate and relevant gestures, was also a key motivational design feature.

  1. Schultze, U. (2014). Performing embodied identity in virtual worlds. European Journal of Information Systems, 23(1), 84-95.
  2. Steptoe, W., Steed, A., & Slater, M. (2013). Human tails: ownership and control of extended humanoid avatars. Visualization and Computer Graphics, IEEE Transactions on, 19(4), 583-590.
  3. The design of motivational agents and avatars. Educational Technology Research and Development, 59(2), 291-300.