Study Tests Female Gamers Playing With Obese and Thin Avatars

Posted on February 1, 2015

Obese female tennis video game avatar

A study by researchers at the University of California, Davis monitored female gamers playing a video tennis game using an obese avatar or a thin avatar. The study found that gamers don't play as hard when using an obese avatar as they do when using a slim avatar. The size of the actual person playing the game made no difference.

Jorge Pena, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and author of the study, says in a statement, "How we perceive ourselves can have a profound impact even when it is just our virtual self. People can get so immersed when playing video games that the virtual self momentarily becomes more salient and influential on behavior than our real self."

96 female students were randomly assigned tennis player avatars that were obese or slim. The computer opponents were also obese or slim. Players wore accelerometers to test their levels of physical activity. The study found that subjects with slim avatars showed much more waist activity than those with avatars that looked obese. An image of one of the obese avatars is pictured above. The image below shows the avatars side by side. She actually looks somewhat more muscular than obese.

Thin vs Obese Tennis video game avatars


Pena says the study shows how people's ideas on weight can impact a person's perception and behavior even in a video game setting. Pena also says the study "demonstrates that a game that takes place in a virtual environment with a virtual opponent is actually a social process." Pena is working on a similar video game avatar study using men as subjects.

A research paper on the study can be found here in the journal, Computers in Human Behavior.

Images: Karin Higgins/UC Davis

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