My Desired Self, Avatar: The Impact of Avatar Creation on Persuasion
 
Student Researcher

Youjeong Kim (PhD Student)
This paper is based on a graduate Independent Study.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

For a complete report of this research, see:

Youjeong Kim & S. Shyam Sundar (2008, August). My Desired Self, Avatar: The Impact of Avatar Creation on Persuasion. Poster to be presented to the Communication Technology Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) at the 91st annual convention in Chicago, IL.

Introduction

In terms of power of anonymity, avatars motivate users to activate one of their inner selves. Through avatars, users present themselves either in their actual forms that are present in the public or in ideal forms that have not been shown in public but are what the users desire to be. Throughout the study, we attempt to explicate the sense of self that could be expressed through avatar creation and its persuasive role in influencing avatar users’ perceptions and attitudes.

Hypotheses

It is true that everybody has a desire to be attractive and credible, although the degree might be different depending on age and gender. However, attractiveness and credibility are self-judgmental terms that are perceived differently by individuals. Therefore, the perception of one’s real self determines the distance between one’s actual self and one’s desired self. For example, if person A perceives himself/herself as unattractive, the gap between one’s actual self and one’s desired self might be large, even if everybody else considers person A to be attractive enough. Presumably, therefore, there might be a judgmental difference between the avatar that looks like the person’s actual self and the avatar that looks like the person’s desired self.

H1: There would be a difference in the judgment between the avatars that actually look like the person and the avatars that the person wishes to look like.

H2: When perceiving the avatars created to be like their desired selves, participants will evaluate the avatar as more attractive, credible, confident, cool, capable, and/or persuasive as compared to avatars created to be like their actual selves.

H3: When perceiving the avatars created to be like their desired selves, participants will evaluate the website in which the avatar appeared and the ad and PSA that are embedded in the website more favorably as compared to when they viewed these aspects using avatars created to be like their actual selves.

Method

To explore the impact of avatars created for representing a user’s self on a website, a within-subjects design was employed. On the manipulated website, twenty-two undergraduate students (9 men and 13 women) participants were directed to create avatars that would represent the user on the website. They were then asked to browse the website in which the created avatar appeared on the left side of the front page. In addition, for the current study, we created two interactive square ads on the right side of the front page: one is a shampoo commercial and the other is a skin cancer PSA. Both ads are identical in size and structure to rule out the effect of ad size or order. After one minute, a pop-up window was scheduled to appear that led participants to the questionnaire.

Results

H1: There was a marginally significant difference in perceiving the self-created avatar. H2: When judging the self-created avatar to be like one’s desired self, users perceived their avatar as being more attractive, credible, confident, cool, capable, and persuasive. Therefore, H2 was supported.
H3: The results failed to illustrate significant effects of avatar perception in predicting positive attitudes toward the website, ad, and PSA. Therefore, H3 was not supported.

Conclusions

We found that there was a marginally significant difference in evaluating the self-customized avatar, particularly judging if the avatar looked like the avatar creator’s actual image or their desired image. Furthermore, the current study revealed that participants were more likely to create an actual avatar that resembled the avatar creator’s real image rather than their desired image for representing themselves in the social networking site (SNS). In addition, this study answered the question as to how the desired avatar was evaluated when users perceived the avatar as a being like their desired selves. Consistent with Langlois et al.’s (2000) study, the desired avatar users perceived their avatar to be attractive, credible, confident, cool, capable, and persuasive.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University