How to portray a friendly personality through your virtual avatar

avatar samples Written by Gayle Christopher, All Rights Reserved

Does your virtual avatar represent your true personality? Or are you showing your unfriendly side to others?

If you’ve spent any time online, you most likely know all about the term “avatar.” But what does an avatar really accomplish, other than providing a graphical representation of our physical selves? York University researchers recently undertook a new project to learn more about how these virtual avatars can also represent our true personality, and how others perceive us in a digital context.

According to a statement provided by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), “An avatar is typically an image that represents the self in a virtual world, ranging from simple drawings (e.g., Mii characters on Nintendo Wii) to detailed three-dimensional renderings of characters (e.g., World of Warcraft).” Many sites also provide a way to create avatar images for use in social media, games, email, blogging and more.

What these avatars provide us is a way to express our physical and psychological traits in the digital world. For some, they also provide a way to suppress certain traits.

For their study, the researchers looked specifically at overall accuracy as well as distinctive accuracy. As reported by Jennifer Santisi of SPSP, “Overall accuracy is how well personality can be predicted as a whole, and is the sum of both distinctive accuracy and expectations based on typical norms.”

Lead researcher Katrina Fong explains: “For example, if my perception of someone’s extraversion closely matches their true level of extraversion, without any reference to how this related to average levels of extraversion, this is overall accuracy. If I can accurately perceive how much more extraverted than average a person is, that involves distinctive accuracy.”

The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, included two phases. The first phase involved the creation of avatars by one group of participants. In the second phase, another set of participants were asked to rate the avatars created in the first phase on five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

What the researchers ultimately found was that certain personality traits were more correctly communicated than others, such as how outgoing or anxious a person was. The traits found to be more difficult to communicate were how open to new experiences or conscientious the person was. Outgoing (extroverted) participants tended to create avatars which better communicated their personality, while those high in neuroticism tended to create avatars which were less able to accurately communicate their personality. Avatars created by more agreeable participants tended to show friendlier intentions.

Fong and her colleagues found that open eyes, a smile, an oval face, brown hair and a sweater were the traits most likely to elicit friendship intentions. Avatars portraying a neutral expression, black and/or short hair, a hat or sunglasses were less likely to elicit friendlier intentions.

The researchers caution, however, that the results do not include the more complex and dynamic avatars such as those found in three-dimensional digital worlds like Second Life.

So, based on their findings, how can you make sure your avatar correctly matches your true personality and friendly intentions? As explained above, stick with open eyes and a happy expression. Likewise, avoid any neutral or unpleasant expression, and by all means avoid the hat and sunglasses.

As the researchers concluded, “The study does show that avatars can offer accurate information about the creator’s personality, and individuals high in agreeableness tend to create an avatar that others want to befriend–not unlike the real-world.”

Avatars were built using the MyBlueRobot.com online tool.

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