Your avatar may say more about you than you might think.
Although both Turkle and Wilson believe the creation of avatars and online personas to be anonymous, people have learned to read through the creativity and infer characteristics of the creator. According to work done by Kafai, Fields, and Cook (2007), referenced in this Atlantic article, we may say more about ourselves than we mean to in our online creations.
According to the Atlantic, in an experiment run by Fong and Mar (2014) , 100 teens created avatars and 200 different teens were asked to infer characteristics of the creators. With surprising accuracy, the participants were able to “detect how anxious, outgoing, or agreeable a person is by their avatar, but not how conscientious or open to new experiences they are” (St. Fleur).
It is worth noting that these findings applied only to 2-D avatars and may not transfer to the complex 3-D avatars created in games such as World of Warcraft. Still, these findings suggest that as generations grow up surrounded by the internet, our ability to infer characteristics about other users may continue to evolve. St. Fleur in his analysis of the work done by Fong and Mar summarizes three main points to consider when creating an avatar.
- Smiles, oval faces, brown hair and open eyes lead people to believe the user is friendly
- Sunglasses, hats, black hair and short hair lead people to believe the user is cold and unfriendly
- Everyone loves sweaters, and avatars wearing sweaters were seen as more welcoming
Studies such as these raise interesting questions about humans’ ability to read people based on appearance and how that ability transfers into the digital world. As physical and online identities begin to blur, this ability to read a person’s personality based on his/her online profile will become more important. As the Internet and online communities continue to grow, so too will their importance in the daily lives of people. As Wilson states, the online world is changing our communities, our identities, and how we communicate.