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ARE you a confident, square-jawed warrior or a height-conscious little goblin? If you ever take on a virtual computer persona, the look you opt for may have a profound effect on your behaviour.

Online, in virtual worlds and chat rooms where people create cartoons of themselves known as avatars, changing your image is as simple as making a few clicks of a mouse. As people alter the appearance of their avatars, does their behaviour unwittingly change too?

To answer this question, Nick Yee and Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, assigned two groups of students an avatar each, using a virtual reality headset. They were given less than a minute to examine their new selves in a "mirror" before being asked to step into a virtual room with another avatar controlled by an independent helper.

Irrespective of their real-life height, some in the first group were assigned avatars that were taller than the other character in the room, and others were given avatars that were shorter. In the second group, half the avatars were given a more attractive face than their counterpart, and half a less attractive one.

Those in the first group were told to negotiate with the other avatar in the room to split a pile of money between them. The researchers found that people given a taller virtual persona were more aggressive negotiators, while those assigned shorter characters were more likely to acquiesce to a deal that was not in their interest. They also found that people with less attractive avatars stood, on average, l metre further away while talking to the other character than those assigned attractive ones.

Yee thinks people's tendency to adapt their behaviour to suit the appearance of their avatar helps explain why tens of millions of online gamers become so immersed in virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft. "These games literally make ordinary people into heroes," he says. The effect could also play a role in any digital interaction where true appearance is masked, such as instant messaging when people choose an avatar to represent them as they chat.

Jeff Hancock, a psychologist at Cornell University in New York, says it is surprising how quickly those involved in the experiment modified their behaviour. "We do take these cues about how we look and use them to guide how we behave. This shows how easily we are able to adapt and apply the rules to a new look."

Yee and Bailenson are now examining the effect of an avatar's age on a person's virtual behaviour.

Celeste Biever.


Ex.1 Answer these questions:


  1. Do the virtual personas that people opt effect their personality or behaviour?
  2. How can you change your image in virtual reality?
  3. What did Nick Yee and Jeremy Bailenson do?
  4. What were the students in the experiment told to do?
  5. What conclusions did Yee and other scientists come to after the experiment?
  6. What are the scientists going to do next?
  7. What do you think about the information in the article?
  8. Why are virtual worlds becoming more and more popular? Give your opinion.


Ask your own questions to the article.


Ex.2 a) Find the word describing appearance in the article. Use the words to describe somebody.

b) Use the underlined words in your own sentences.


Ex.3 Insert the right prepositions:

1) have a profound effect _____smb, 2) make ordinary people ____heroes, 3) ___ average, 4) was not ____ their interest, 5) apply the rules ___ a new look, 6) known ___ avatars, 7) step ___ a virtual room



Date: 2015-01-12; view: 1121

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