I’ve been reading a lot lately about the relationship between people’s body language and their emotional state. Apparently smiling and using good posture can directly affect things like confidence and charisma. In slightly related news, The Psychology of Video Games blog posted some interesting research about how using different avatars in a digital environment can affect our behavior:
Researcher Nick Yee started his career by taking the precepts of social identity theory and using them to understand how people behave depending on the virtual avatars they assume. In one of his earliest experiments, Yee had experimental subjects don a wicked head-mounted display that let them perceive and move around in a simple virtual environment. There was just a virtual room, another virtual person controlled by someone else, and a virtual mirror. The mirror was important, because it obviously wasn’t a real mirror and the researcher could use it to show whatever “reflection” of the subjects’ avatars they wanted. In fact, Yee randomly showed subjects one of three types of reflections of their avatar: ugly, normal, and attractive.
What Yee was interested in was how this would affect how subjects interacted with the other person in the virtual room. After following directions to inspect their avatars in the mirror, subjects were asked to approach the room’s other occupant and chat with him or her. This other person was controlled by a research assistant and followed a simple script to get the conversation going, saying something like: “Tell me a bit about yourself.”
What the study revealed was how attractive a subject’s avatar was affected how he or she behaved. Relative to those with ugly avatars, people assigned attractive avatars both stood closer to the other person and disclosed more personal details about themselves to this stranger. Then, in a follow-up study using the same setup, Yee found that people using taller avatars were more assertive and confident when they engaged in a simple negotiation exercise. …Like in the real world, we first make an observation about our avatar, infer something about our character, and then continue to act according to our perceived expectations. We needn’t make a conscious decision to do it.
All of which got me thinking about whether this kind of psychology could be tied to things like consumer confidence, winning football games, and why most people weren’t any good with Odd Job on Goldeneye.