Using thin avatars in gaming can help you stay fit: study

Using thin avatars in gaming can help you stay fit: study

 Gamers who use thin avatars show increased physical activity compared to those who use obese avatars, a new study has found.

Researchers from University of California conducted an experiment where participants were randomly assigned to a normal weight or obese avatar as well as normal weight or obese opponent in virtual tennis game.

The avatar and the opponent were essentially the same male virtual character. The body size of the avatar was manipulated by setting a different Body Mass Index (BMI) for the normal or obese virtual character.

The normal weight character was thin and had a BMI of 18.6 (where normal range BMI is 18.5 to 24.9). The obese character had a BMI of 32.1.

Researchers found that regardless of participants' own BMI, those using thin avatars showed increased physical activity compared to those using obese avatars.

In addition, downward social comparison effects - or comparing oneself to someone perceived as less skilled - were identified as participants that perceived their avatar as more obese than their virtual opponent showed decreased physical activity in the real world while playing the game.

This implies that perceiving oneself at a virtual disadvantage (self avatar is obese but opponent character is thin) discouraged physical activity.

These findings replicate the researcher's previous studies using an all-male sample.
The findings reinforce the importance of priming effects in gaming and virtual contexts.

"I think the findings have real-world applications, such as using avatars in video games to 'nudge' people to increase physical activity, or getting people more comfortable with small increases in physical activity before taking on more intense physical routines," said Jorge Pena from University of California.

"This also illustrates that people may show decreased physical activity when they perceive their avatar to be at a disadvantage, like when an avatar is obese and their virtual opponent is thin, and this insight may be applied to the design of virtual characters," Pena said.

The findings were published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

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