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Healthy Looking Avatars Encourage us to Become-More Healthy Ourselves


Healthy Looking Avatars Encourage us to Become More Healthy Ourselves


A study carried out at the University of Missouri has found that having a fit and healthy looking avatar may encourage people to become healthier themselves.
A survey was carried out among users of the virtual reality community Second Life asking participants about the way they engaged with their avatar, the relationships that they developed in the community and then how this compared with their offline appearance, health and emotional well being.
Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, assistant professor of communication at the University said before the study: “The creation of an avatar allows an individual to try on a new appearance and persona, with little risk or effort.
“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.”
The findings of the study talk of self presence, which is how much the user identifies with their avatar and sees it as an extension of themselves, using it to immerse themselves in the virtual world.
There was found to be a direct correlation between self presence and the physical well being of the people that participated in the study.
Positive experiences that users encountered with their avatars online directly linked with the way that they felt about themselves offline.
When looking at the findings of the study, Behm-Morowitz said: “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.
“Users should practice moderation. Virtual entertainment, like other forms of diversion such as books or television, can be used in unhealthy ways.”
Behm-Morowitz has been carrying out further research on how virtual worlds such as Second Life can be used to decrease prejudice against ethnic minorities and increase empathy towards others.
“This may occur through the process of identification with an avatar that is different from oneself, or through a virtual simulation that allows individuals to experience discrimination as a member of a non-dominant group might experience it,” she noted of her current research.
By Sarah Marie Jones 

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