Does a fit online avatar make you work out in real life, too? (We doubt it.)

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If we want to change people’s behaviors for the better, it might be good to figure out what works. Being able to separate cause and effect seems important to that end, which is why the following report had us scratching our heads a tad:

According to a news story, the research group RTI International has surveyed some users of the online virtual world Second Life and...

‘The study found that 80 percent of respondents who reported high levels of physical activity for their avatars also reported participating in high levels of physical activity in their real lives,’ the article reports.
’ ‘Based on these preliminary results, it seems likely that virtual reality users may adjust their identity to be consistent with that of their avatars,’ said Elizabeth Dean, research survey methodologist at RTI and the study’s lead author.’

Maybe so. But it might, just might, mean that those who are fit and athletic create avatars who are fit and athletic as well -- we are, perhaps, not quite as creative and out-there as we’d imagine when it comes to forging a whole new online identity for ourselves.


I, for example, might be very likely to choose a cat avatar for myself, as I am already a feline fanatic. On the other hand, my fellow Booster Shots blogger Tami Dennis (who in all other respects is a perfect human being) does not care for cats and would sooner be slapped in the face with a wet fish than choose one.

Dean does point out that the study is preliminary. (Indeed, a total of 29 people were surveyed.) And perhaps she makes a point when she says (also in the news article): ‘The public health urgency surrounding the issue of obesity means that any intervention that might possibly affect real-life health should be considered.’ And tested, too, perhaps.

Here’s the RTI International release. The study’s to be published in the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. In case it’s not on your coffee table, here’s the journal link.

-- Rosie Mestel