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The Proteus effect describes a phenomenon in which the behavior of an individual, within virtual worldsis changed by the characteristics of their avatar. This change is due to the individual's knowledge about the behaviors that other users who are part of that virtual environment typically associate with those characteristics. Like the adjective protean meaning versatile or mutablethe concept's name is an allusion to the shape changing abilities of the Greek god Proteus. It is considered an area of research concerned with the examination of the behavioral effects of changing a user's embodied avatar.
The Proteus effect proposes that the visual characteristics and traits of an avatar are associated with specific behavioral stereotypes and expectations. When an individual believes that others will expect certain behaviors from them because of their avatars' appearance, they will engage in those expected behaviors. This is part of a larger field of research that looks at the behavior of individuals who engage in computer-mediated communication CMC. Although CMC comes in many forms text, audio, video, etc. This the proteus effect is driven by the increased ability to control one's appearance in an online virtual environment.
Virtual world environments allow users to control many aspects of their appearance that they cannot easily change in the real world e. Three psychological concepts that led to the development of the Proteus effect are behavioral confirmationself-perception theoryand deindividuation. Behavioral confirmation refers to the effects that a perceiver's actions can have on the resulting behavior of an individual. Instead, its goal is to explain how the individual's own stereotypes and expectations drives the change in behavior, independent of the proteus effect social interactions that take place.
Self-perception theory states that individuals determine their attitudes and emotions by making observations about both their own behavior and the circumstances that led to those behaviors. Frank and Thomas Gilovichparticipants who watched video recordings of sports rated NFL and NHL players wore black uniforms as being more aggressive.
Furthermore, participants who were instructed to wear black jerseys reported greater preferences for engaging in aggressive behaviors against competitors. The Proteus effect carries this idea into virtual environments, where individuals see themselves as their avatar which in turn shapes their behavior. Deindividuation refers to a decrease in self-awareness and self-evaluation as a result of being part of a group.
Individuals who experience deindividuation seem to be influenced to a greater degree by identity cues. In a study by Robert D. Johnson and Leslie L. Downing, participants were instructed to give an electric shock to research assistants while wearing either a KKK disguise or a nurse's uniform. Johnson and Downing stated that these findings supported the argument that deindividuation increases the influence that identity cues have on individuals. In virtual environments, deindividuation is believed to be driven by the level of anonymity that this type of setting provides for its users.
A meta-analysis examining 46 quantitative experimental studies of the Proteus effect found a small-but-approaching-medium effect size that was relatively consistent between. Findings from a study that compared the appearance and behaviors of avatars in Second Life to the real world behavior and appearance of their users support the Proteus effect.
In this study, participants who reported that they had deed their avatars to be more attractive also reported engaging in more confident and extraverted behavior when compared to the proteus effect real world behavior. The Proteus effect has also been linked to attitude changes that reflect the stereotypes associated with their avatar's appearance. In a study by Jesse Fox, Jeremy N. Bailenson, and Liz Tricase, women were ased avatars whose appearances were either highly sexualized or non-sexualized. This was followed by a virtual conversation with a male avatar who was being controlled by the researchers.
Women who used a sexualized avatar reported having more thoughts about their body image. The researchers concluded that this finding supports the Proteus effect by demonstrating that individuals internalized the sexualized aspects of their avatar's appearance, which led to greater self-objectification. Support for this conclusion comes from a similar study in which more body-related thoughts were reported by women who were asked to wear swimsuit when compared to women who were only asked to try on a shirt while facing a mirror.
Further support for the Proteus effect comes from a series of studies that used avatars to increase the amount of exercise performed by individuals. One major difference in this study is that the the proteus effect that avatars had on participants' behavior depended on how much the avatar resembled the user. This difference was tested by asing some users avatars that had been created using photographs of their actual faces. The Proteus effect has also been used to explain successful replications of the work by Frank and Gilovich and Johnson and Downing Hancock, and Nicholas A.
Merola found that attitude towards aggressive behavior in a virtual setting was increased in individuals who used avatars wearing black cloaks or clothing that resembled KKK uniforms.
The researchers argued that the negative associations related to the avatar's appearance changed the user's attitudes. Behavioral effect in virtual worlds. This article is about an aspect of human psychology. For the statistical bias in academic publishing, see Proteus phenomenon. Human Communication Research. CiteSeerX Oxford University Press. ISBN Shyam The Handbook of the Psychology of Communication Technology. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. ISSN Cable Journal of Applied Psychology.
PMID Communication Research. S2CID ELT Journal. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Advances in Experimental Social Psychology Volume 6. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Psychological Review.
ISSN X. Media Psychology : 1— Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. Public Communication Campaigns, Fourth Edition. Computers in Human Behavior. Sex Roles. Media Psychology. : Avatar characters in video games Psychological effects Virtual avatars.
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Introduction to the Proteus Effect