In Web3, every user needs an avatar. But what criteria do we use to create this representation of ourselves? Which avatars are well received and can the type of avatar we use even influence our behaviour?
The web3 is not only the scene of innovative technology and new business models, it also opens up new fields of research for the humanities. Psychology and communication science are currently increasingly focusing on avatars. After all, every user in the Metaverse needs a virtual representation of his or her self.
And this self can - quite differently from real life - be designed as desired with a few clicks:
The optimised self
Initial studies show, not surprisingly, that users adapt their avatars to the context of use. For the business meeting with the boss, one also wears virtual business clothes, while the avatar for the VR party at the weekend can look super-futuristic.
In contrast to earlier studies, which examined avatars almost exclusively in the context of games, it now appears that social network users idealise their avatars less. They base their avatars more often on real characteristics such as gender and appearance and thus build their avatars closer to their real selves. At the same time, however, there is also diligent optimisation in the Metaverse: Everyone presents themselves as positively as possible.
In the “Uncanny Valley”
Researchers from the fields of marketing and business also want to optimise avatars. After all, avatars will be used in Web3 to woo customers, convince future employees or inspire followers.
One might assume that the more photorealistic avatars are, the more users will accept them. But it turns out that abstract figures are often perceived more likeable than particularly human-like avatars. This is attributed to the “Uncanny Valley” effect. Originating in robotics, “Uncanny Valley” describes how artificial figures first gain acceptance as they become more human-like. At a certain point, however, the acceptance curve then drops steeply because the human resemblance suddenly seems very irritating or even creepy. This “creepy gap” only closes when the avatar can no longer be visually distinguished from a real person.
It also becomes exciting when users cannot determine their avatar themselves. Then it becomes apparent that the avatar can influence our behaviour instead! This so-called Proteus effect (named after the Greek god of the sea and shapeshifter) assumes that users behave stereotypically depending on the visual characteristics of their avatar: In a comparatively large avatar, users behave more unfairly or dominantly. Or they act more according to gender roles with clearly gender-specific avatar characteristics than in a gender-neutral avatar.
Learning on your own (avatar) body
Various studies have also investigated whether experiences in virtual space can have a lasting influence on test persons. And indeed, there were clear priming effects - both in a positive and negative sense: those who spent a longer period of time in VR as homeless people subsequently showed much more understanding for this group of people. On the other hand, those who had to act as bouncers in VR for some time were less team-oriented and more aggressive when they returned to real life.
Is it all peace, joy and happiness?
Even if most researchers are positively disposed towards Web3, critical voices are also being raised in avatar psychology: What is the addictive potential of Web3? Can the use of various avatars have negative effects on individual identity? And how dangerous is VR sickness, which some users experience with long-lasting nausea after spending time in VR?
Here, research is still in its beginnings. But don’t worry, we’ll stay tuned!