Fake it till you make it

Experiencing  virtual self-perception
Experiencing virtual self-perception

How we think about ourselves effects how we interact with the world around us. We can easily accept that there is a link between how we feel and how we behave. Now, for those of us opting to enter virtual worlds, there is a new dimension of self-perception available for exploration, our avatar.

How do we perceive ourselves when we use an avatar? Our symbolic self-representation can carry out actions, and conversations, whilst being simultaneously observed by ourselves. We do not see a mirror reflection of our physical self we see instead an idea of ourselves. This visual idea of self is strangely powerful even though we do not quite understand it. What we see, and how it makes us feel, is of huge interest to bloggers and researchers alike.

Meditation \'try it\'
Virtual Meditation (try it!) Meditation cushions available at Buddha Art

Take a look at The Center for Connected Health site which reports on research examining the dynamics of avatars, and the ensuing impact they have upon our self–perception and physical world behavior. Connected Health links to a Time Magazine report that covers a number of intriguing studies carried out by Stanford University researchers and quotes Jeremy Bailenson (of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab) who says “When we cloak ourselves in avatars, it subtly alters the manner in which we behave,”

Connected Health also links to a Boston.com report on neurologist, Dr. Daniel Hoch who is researching the effects of teaching the Relaxation Response in Second Life. As he observes, ”There are an awful lot of people creating their own meditation spaces”. This is true! There are many, many virtual cushions with meditation scripts embedded in them waiting to trip up un-mindful avis! All these cushions point to people seeking inner peace, even if only on the level of watching their avatar help land aircraft while seated in the lotus position.

Exercising by moonlight
Exercising by moonlight (Sports equipment available on Virgin Island)

These studies examine how our avatar’s appearance and actions affect us later when we are ‘off-line’. It is intriguing to read in the Time magazine article that people who observed their ‘look-a-like’ avatars exercising on tread mills in Second Life, were more likely to exercise later in their physical life compared to those who just observed their avatars lounging around.

Falling demo angel
Falling demo angel (the closest I will ever get to being angelic)

I am now sending my avatar off to exercise in Second Life to encourage me in my first life. I wonder about the effect of wishful thinking here? When I was at school I tried sleeping with my French verbs under my pillow in the hope I would wake up knowing them. (Sadly, it did not work! I suspect a lot of English school children have tried this approach, perhaps this explains why the English are so bad at foreign languages?) Still, it is worth considering the subtle levels of how our avatars affect our self-perception. At the very least this puts a whole new spin on the saying ‘fake it till you make it!’ Maybe it should be ‘Rez it, watch it, do it?’

Demo ball gowns from Sacha’s Designs

4 thoughts on “Fake it till you make it

  1. It is very interesting *why* changing a picture on screen should affect the way we think of ourselves.

    I think this points to how our very identity is social at its roots. If we build our understanding of ourselves, based on how we understand others. How we *feel* about ourselves and actions depends to a huge extent on how others react to these (including how we anticipate they will react, and their expectations of us). Our emotions about our appearances have a function – to send social messages to others, to affect how they think of us etc.

    This extends to not only our appearance (a particular kind of social action) but any of our interactions. Although there may be some general tendencies in each of us, a lot of what we think of as personality is particular to how we interact with different people, and when there is a tight group, that is further cemented in to that group/context.

    If this is right, we will feel different form our avs, becuase we know (and experience) how others react to it and will interact with it given how it looks/acts. Thus in creating a avatar for ourselves we are creating a new personality as well (or aspects of it). Some even in its mere creation, since we anticipate the social effect already, and more when we interact as that, and even more when we interact a long time with a close knit group like that.

    In RL it is difficult to do this, the existing expectations of people we know (and see each day) keep our personalities as they were. In SL we get the chance to be creative – literally make yourself!


  2. Interesting comment San! I like your description of our chance to literally make ourselves. Many people do use their avatars in virtual worlds to create a new personality, or exercise aspects of their personality not normally expressed in their everyday physical lives. You seem to be describing a maturation process for these invented/created personalities? It is intriguing to consider how long some people might have used one single avatar, establishing both a ‘stable’ appearance and personality for that avi. I am curious how such established alter egos effect an individual’s self-perception in the physical world?

  3. hehehehe – what a lot of questions!

    Yes, I was pointing at a maturation process. (of course I dont distinguish between invented/created personalities and normal personalities – I think it is the same process with differences caused by the different envinronment). I am guessing it goes something like this….

    One takes lifestyle decisions – appearence, where to hangout, what sort of friends, how you interact…

    …then some of these fit into others perceptions/expectations of you, and provoke interactions/relationships that you like….

    ….so you adapt more to these people… and they form more expectations of you…

    …until, to an extent, with these people the personality becomes “stable” as a result of the interaction and mutual expectations/”understanding” of each other.

    This effect might occur just in you imagination (imagining such interactions) but is stronger with actual interaction, stronger still if you form longer-term relationships in this personality and even stronger if there is a social network of relationships all mutually reinforced but each.

    The ease with which one can choose places and appearance in SL means that you can develop (stronger over time) different personalities so easily in SL and simulataneous different ones for each av. It explains why the personalities become fixed with a social group and relationships.

    My av has had a roughly stable appearence for just about a year (the last “fundermental” change being my tattoos (although I have an alt which complicates it). When I was actively running more than one av (a period that ended about a year ago) I *did* feel different with each av, partly due to the different friends etc. they had.

    It has altered my perception of myself in the RL, but not as much as one might have accepted. I *know* there are other possibilities inside me than I exhibit in the RL now. But it is natural that different aspects of me are manifest in a resaonably stable complex we call personality, in different contexts. We *do* have different personalities at work, at home, with kids, being intimate, etc… especially if these are with different people. There are some constants, of course, but my conclusion is that we are surprisingly flexible!


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