The Proteus Effect: How Virtual Reality Changes Our Behavior

Does VR contribute to acting or doing things that one wouldn't normally do when not using VR?

With Virtual Reality picking up steam, the conversation around The Proteus Effect is becoming more relevant. Introduced by Yee and Bailenson in 2007, the term suggests that users of a virtual environment adapt their behavior to the characteristics of their respective avatars. But what do the studies say?

We know that virtually experiencing another person's life can be both positive and negative depending on the user's emotional state during exposure to virtual reality. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that virtual environments allow users to dramatically alter their self-representation. Personally, I believe this extends beyond virtual reality, and in to social media identity as well.


Virtual Reality

In two key studies, several conclusions were made. The first being that both the height and attractiveness of an avatar in an online game were significant predictors of the player’s performance. In the second study, behavioral changes stemming from the virtual environment transferred to real-life interactions. 

Participants were placed in an immersive virtual environment and were given either shorter or taller avatars. They then interacted with someone else for about 15 minutes. In addition to causing a behavioral difference within the virtual environment, participants given taller avatars negotiated more aggressively in subsequent face-to-face interactions than participants given shorter avatars. 

Together, these two studies show that our virtual bodies can change how we interact with others in actual avatar-based online communities as well as in subsequent face-to-face interactions

References

Ratan, R.. (2019). Avatar characteristics induce users’ behavioral conformity with small-to-medium effect sizes: a meta-analysis of the proteus effect. Media Psychology.
Yee, N. & Bailenson, J.. (2007). The Proteus Effect: The Effect of Transformed Self-Representation on Behavior. Communication Research.