The Proteus Effect and Self-Objectification via Avatars

Women whose avatars are dressed provocatively come to think of themselves more as objects than as people.

The Proteus Effect and Self-Objectification via Avatars

If women appear as sexualized avatars in a virtual reality world, it affects them in the real world, a new study by Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab has found. Specifically, women whose avatars are dressed provocatively think of themselves more as objects than as people.


This phenomenon is known as the Proteus effect, which describes someone adapting their behavior in order to conform to a digital persona. The term is derived from the Greek god Proteus, the god of "elusive sea change."

"We often talk about video game violence and how it affects people who play violent video games," said Jeremy Bailenson, the director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford. "I think it's equally important to think about sexualization."

After participants in Bailenson's study spent time in a virtual reality environment, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire in which they rated how much they agreed with statements. According to the Stanford Report:

Bailenson and [co-author Jesse Fox] folded rape myths such as "in the majority of rapes, the victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation" into the questionnaire. Participants rated how much they agreed or disagreed with the statements.     

The participants who had worn the sexualized avatars tended to agree with rape myths more than the women who had worn the non-sexualized avatars. Women in sexualized avatars whose faces resembled their own agreed with the myths more than anyone else in the study.

Read Bailenson and Fox's research paper here (pdf). 

How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

Credit: Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
  • Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

Designer uses AI to bring 54 Roman emperors to life

It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.

Meet Emperors Augustus, left, and Maximinus Thrax, right

Credit: Daniel Voshart
Technology & Innovation
  • A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
  • A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
  • It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
Keep reading Show less

Dark matter axions possibly found near Magnificent 7 neutron stars

A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.

A rendering of the XMM-Newton (X-ray multi-mirror mission) space telescope.

Credit: D. Ducros; ESA/XMM-Newton, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Surprising Science
  • A study led by Berkeley Lab suggests axions may be present near neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven.
  • The axions, theorized fundamental particles, could be found in the high-energy X-rays emitted from the stars.
  • Axions have yet to be observed directly and may be responsible for the elusive dark matter.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Put on a happy face? “Deep acting” associated with improved work life

    New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.

    Credit: Columbia Pictures
    Personal Growth
  • Deep acting is the work strategy of regulating your emotions to match a desired state.
  • New research suggests that deep acting reduces fatigue, improves trust, and advances goal progress over other regulation strategies.
  • Further research suggests learning to attune our emotions for deep acting is a beneficial work-life strategy.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Surprising Science

    World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

    Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast