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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Three Things You Should Really Know about Avatars (and their relationship to you)

An Avatar in a Virtual Immersive Environment is a rendering of a computer user as an interface technique. Instead of moving around a computer interface as a mouse, one moves around as an anthropomorphic figure.

Recently, there has been some research released which indicates that moving through a computer generated interface as an avatar provides powerful learning stimulus. Here are some points from an article titled Promoting motivation with virtual agents and avatars: role of visual presence and appearance by Amy Baylor.

1) An experience as an avatar can change a person's real life perceptions. In a study conducted by Yee and Bailenson (2006) It was found that negative stereotyping of the elderly was significantly reduced when participants were placed in avatars of old people compared with those participants placed in avatars of young people.

2) Watching an avatar that looks like you performing an activity influences you to perform a similar or same activity in the future. In a study, users watched an avatar that looked like them exercising and loosing weight in a virtual environment, the result was that those that watched the avatar of themselves subsequently exercised more and eat more healthy in the real world as compared to a control group. This as reported by Fox and Bailenson (2009).

In similar study, discussed by Baylor (2010), "participants were exposed to an avatar representing themselves running on a treadmill, another avatar running or an avatar representing themselves loitering. Within 24 hours, after the experiment, participants who were exposed to the avatar running that represented themselves exercised significantly more than those in the other conditions."

As study by Ersner-Hershfield et al. (2008) found that when college-aged students observed their avatar ageing in a virtual mirror, they formed a psychological connection to their "future selves" and decided to invest more money in a retirement account as opposed to a control group.

3) People tend to conform to how their avatar appears regardless of how it is perceived by others. In one study by Yee and Bailenson (2007), participants with taller avatars behaved more confidently in a negotiation task than participants with shorter avatars; specifically, they were more willing to make unfair splits in negotiation tasks. In contrast, participants with shorter avatars were more willing to accept unfair offers than those who had taller avatars.

Additionally, in subsequent research, Yee et. al. (2009) found that behavioral changes originating within a virtual environment can transfer to subsequent face-to-face interactions. In the study, participants were placed in an immersive virtual environment and were given either shorter or taller avatars. They then interacted with a human confederate for about 15 min. In addition to causing a behavioral difference within the virtual environment, the authors found that participants given taller avatars negotiated more aggressively in the subsequent face-to-face interactions with the confederate than participants given shorter avatars.

A growing body of evidence is finding that strong behavioral and attitudinal changes occur as the result of being an avatar in a virtual immersive environment. The concept of the "Sense of Self" is a very powerful influencer in the learning environment around virtual worlds.

To learn more about virtual immersive environments for learning, check out this book:

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