Jennifer Wu


Avatars and virtual worlds have become commonplace across the Internet in recent years through the development of the gaming industry and social media technology. The technology involved in virtual environments is becoming more accessible to the general public, and software for creating avatars or participating in virtual worlds can be found free online. Virtual worlds are used not only for recreation, but are also increasingly used for other purposes, such as education, marketing, and meeting places. We are finding new ways to represent ourselves online for various purposes. Recent research in psychology has shown that social phenomena in virtual worlds are comparable to real life experiences. For example, interpersonal distance and eye gaze are demonstrated in interactions with avatars in a manner similar to human interactions in the real world (Yee, Bailenson, Urbanek, Chang, & Merget, 2007). These experiences occur when individuals feel embodied by their avatar, or consider their avatar as an extension of themselves manifested in a particular virtual world. When utilizing this technology, an individual’s motivations and intentions may affect the appearance of the avatars they choose to represent themselves. In this study, we are examining the relationships between background attributes of virtual world users and the nature of the avatars used for self-representation in a specific virtual social context. We surveyed a sample population of college students on personality, use of communication technologies and social media, and gaming experience. Then, we presented those students with an array of pre-selected avatar choices for them to choose for representation in different virtual social situations. We intend to analyze whether the surveyed attributes of participants influence avatar embodiment and whether social context affects their choice of preferred avatars. By better understanding how participants select avatars and how avatars affect the virtual world experience, we hope to discover ways to better use virtual world technology for education and positive social connections.