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A Virtual Avatar May be Just What You Need

English: This is a self portrait of the avatar...

As of August 9, 2011, the movie “Avatar” was the highest grossing movie of all time. As of August, 2011, Avatar had grossed $2,783,919,000 around the world. As of that date in the United States, Avatar had grossed $760,500,000.

An avatar is defined as, “an incarnation, embodiment, or manifestation of a person or idea.” For example, you could say that Elvis Presley was the avatar of rock and roll music.

In the computer world, an avatar is the graphic representation of you or your alter ego or character. Your virtual avatar may take either a three-dimensional form, as in virtual worlds or games, or it may take a two-dimensional form as an icon in internet forums and other online communities.

Just what you need

As incredible and unbelievable as it may sound, a virtual avatar may be just what you need. Researchers found that when you strongly identify with your virtual avatar, it can actually influence your appearance and health in real life.

According to a study by the University of Missouri, having a virtual avatar could help to break down sexual and racial prejudices and result in new forms of obesity treatment. Researcher Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz said, “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.”

In the University of Missouri study, 279 users of a virtual reality game known as “Second Life” answered a questionnaire about their engagement with their virtual avatar and relationships that they developed on-line. They also answered questions concerning their real appearance, emotional well-being and health.


The thing that was found in the study to predict the influence that the virtual avatar had on the person’s physical reality was self-presence. This is the degree to which a person experienced their avatar as an extension of themselves.

The study found that a person’s well-being and health was positively promoted when that person had a strong sense of self-presence in the social virtual world. A person who had a high degree of self-presence in the virtual world said that their experience with their virtual avatar made them feel better about themselves in the real world.

The study also found a correlation between self-presence and a greater satisfaction with virtual relationships. Behm-Morawitz 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.”

Other virtual worlds

Behm-Morawitz believes that the results of the study should not be limited to the virtual game “Second Life”. She believes other virtual worlds could show the same type of benefits.

Other studies support this new research. In September, 2012, an Indiana University study was published that showed that more people put into practice healthy habits after going through weight-loss programs that were presented in a 3D virtual world than people who participated in a weight-loss program in a traditional health club.
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