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A new study looks at how the use of avatars in video games or apps could influence how we feel about our own health and appearance and offer a boost to weight loss and exercise training programs.
Researchers from the University of Missouri in the US looked at nearly 280 users of a 3D virtual reality world called Second Life who responded to survey questions about the fitness and appearance of their avatars as well as their offline health and fitness.
"The creation of an avatar allows an individual to try on a new appearance and persona, with little risk or effort," says researcher Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, assistant professor of communication in the University of Missouri's College of Arts and Science. "That alter-ego can then have a positive influence on a person's life."
"For example, people seeking to lose weight could create fitter avatars to help visualize themselves as slimmer and healthier," she adds.
"The avatar may serve as a source of motivation or inspiration to take better care of the body ofﬂine," Behm-Morawitz writes in the study. "Indeed, virtual world users who perceived their avatar to be more attractive than their ofﬂine self and representative of their ideal appearance were more likely to report avatar effects on ofﬂine appearance and health behaviors."
Behn-Morawitz told mobile health news source Mobihealthnews that WiiFit and other games could develop more sophisticated avatars that can interact with other avatars, since the social component is critical for an avatar to be a "successful feedback mechanism."
Not to mention, adds Mobihealthnews, that fitness buffs who use health apps could be keen on buff avatars, plus the technology could engage gamers, who often aren't too invested in fitness.
The study, announced this week, is published online now in the journal Computers in Human Behavior: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563212002269