Users often decide not to be completely anonymous on the internet. It is common in various cultures among the internet, e.g. massively multiplayer online games, for users to create an avatar that is meant to represent themselves in the virtual world. These avatars generally take the forms of human and mimic reality as reasonably as possible.They are not exclusively human form. [1]



Researchers Yee and Bailsenson assert that transforming one’s identity is easiest in virtual environments because the users can create their own avatars.[3] There are multiple theories that attempt to explain why users’ behaviors change when they control an avatar, such as behavioral confirmation, self-perception theory, and deindividuation theory.

Behavioral conformation is when a person A confirms person B’s behavioral expectations of person A by acting in accordance. For example, if one person’s avatar is a male, and another person’s avatar is an attractive female, the female may behave more charming and friendly because of the expectations that are put on her. The behavioral change affects the perceiver (the female) and not the target (male).[3]

Self-perception theory suggests that people observe their own behaviors and infer what motivations may have caused their behavior, then apply it to other people.[3] For example, a study found that avatars wearing black robes in a virtual environment expressed more likelihood to behave aggressively than avatars in white robes. This is because the avatars in black robes perceive others in black as mean and tough, so they ascribe themselves as being such.

Deindividuation may also affect avatar identification and behavior. This is the phenomenon of individuals losing their self-awareness in groups, which can result in both pro-social and antisocial behavior. Antisocial behavior is evident when humans engage in ‘mob mentality,’ where individuals are likely to violate their own behavioral norms when behaving in groups. Pro-social behavior via deindividuation was demonstrated by pairing men and women, and placing them either into a dark room, or a fully lit room. Many dyads intentionally touched or hugged the other person in the dark room, while dyads in the fully lit room talked politely. Researchers believe that deindividuation happens as a result of anonymity. Researcher Nick Yee believes that “Users who are deindividuated in online environments may adhere to a new identity that is inferred from their avatars.”[3] Extending off of this idea, the Proteus Effect is when users conform to the stereotypes of the identity of their avatar. For example, when a player plays Grand Theft Auto he or she is likely to shoot things, steal cars, and kill virtual people. The player is not performing these actions because this is what they would normally do. Instead, according to the Proteus Effect, the player is complying with the stereotypes and expectations placed on their gun-wielding avatar. Though it does affect male users, it seems the hypersexualized world of the internet causes this to occur often to females, who are often treated differently than their male counterparts online, e.g. users with taller avatars negotiate through the environment more confidently than their short bodies do in the physical world. It is common for female avatars to have more sexualized features than male avatars, so females may feel objectified while playing as these hypersexualized characters.[1] In Yee’s study,[3] participants who had more attractive avatars were more likely to be more intimate with strangers of the opposite sex than unattractive avatars.

Proteus EffectEdit

In Greek Mythology, the God Proteus was known for constant change with the sea[3]. He was fluid in his character and was constantly changing shape to avoid his godly duties.
SEO from Proteus God-of-change


The “protein” is derived from this god, as it proteins are good at taking many forms. As computers have given people the ability to change their shapes behind the guise of an avatar, a phenomenon has emerged that has been labeled the Proteus Effect. This is the phenomenon in which an avatar with certain characteristics influences the behavior and self-perception of the actual person using this avatar. If a user is playing with an avatar whose character is tall and confident, then regardless of the users height, they will begin to act more assertively than they would away from the avatar[1]. Humans changing their behavior is nothing new, and is referred to as Behavioral Confirmation[5]. When a male is speaking on a phone with a person he believes to be an attractive woman on the other end, he behaves more friendly and charming than he normally would. Knowing this, it is not surprising that a person controlling an avatar who is perceived by other users as tall and confident, that the user would in turn act in a way that would confirm these beliefs, even though the user may be short and socially awkward. As Yee points out, the avatar is not just a uniform the user wears, it is the entire self perception of the user.

The Uncanny ValleyEdit

The Uncanny Valley is a phenomenon is which people report feeling uncomfortable around an object that almost resembles a human being. People report enjoying an object that looks more human being, but at a certain point being to feel discomfort, and perhaps even repulsion, towards the object[6]. This effect was noticed as industrial robots began to become more normal in factory settings during the 1970s. If the robot was something abstract, for example only an arm, people had no issue with it. But when the robot was given more human features, a prosthetic humanoid arm for example, people reported that they felt uncomfortable with the machine.


It does not only apply to machines, people are uncomfortable by corpses and computer animated people as well. Corpses, as Mori points out, are cold and discolored, yet still human, and the observer sees the differences and it causes them discomfort.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Fox, J., Bailenson, J., & Tricase, L. (2013). The embodiment of sexualized virtual selves: The Proteus effect and experiences of self-objectification via avatars. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 930-938. Retrieved December 8, 2013, from
  2. Royalty Free Stock Image: User avatar icons vector. (n.d.). Dreamstime. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Yee, N., & Bailenson, J. (2007). The Proteus effect: The effect of transformed self‐representation on behavior. Human communication research, 33(3), 271-290.
  4. Bhasin, V. (2013). SEO_from_Proteus_God of change. TECHISDOM Where Tech Meets Wisdom RSS. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from
  5. Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social Perception And Interpersonal Behavior: On The Self-fulfilling Nature Of Social Stereotypes.. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35(9), 656-666. Retrieved from {{ #NewWindowLink: }}
  6. Mori, M., Macdorman, K., & Kageki, N. (2012). The Uncanny Valley [From the Field]. IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine, 19(2), 98-100. Retrieved from {{#NewWindowLink: }}
  7. Guizzo, E. (2010, April 2). Who's Afraid of the Uncanny Valley?. - IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved April 7, 2014, from