Virtual Avatars May Help Users Develop Non-Judgmental Views

Social Media

New research has found that all of those hours you spend looking at facebook and twitter may have positive effects on your real life when you use the sites in the right way. A survey conducted by Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz of the University of Missouri found that when people closely identified with their online image, or avatar, the avatar they chose could influence how they saw themselves and behaved in reality. This points to the idea that if a person created a healthy, thin online persona, it could lead them to make healthier choices leading to weight loss. The online image is a way of trying out a new way of life, without any risk, and after ascertaining if they like the new image, it could translate to real changes. Behm-Morawitz hopes that her findings may extend to prejudice and discrimination. The idea is that by allowing users to experience discrimination as a member of a non-dominant group online, users may develop greater empathy, or through identifying with avatars not like themselves, may decrease stereotyping in reality.

Other studies corroborate her findings. In September, researchers found that groups of people seeking to lose weight were more successful when they engaged in an exclusive facebook community for support. Additionally two professors, Keith Wilcox of Columbia University and Andrew T. Stephen of the University of Pittsburgh, executed a series of five experiments showing that people who used social media to interact with close friends and family had higher self-esteem. They suggest that social media use with an emphasis on close bonds made the users care about the image they projected, and increased their self-confidence. The resounding theme is that the impact of online presence is in how people seek to use it. When taking facebook, twitter, and other sites as a tool for envisioning a better self, and working towards those results within a community of like-minded people, it can be a real asset for self-improvement. You can tell that to your friends next time they complain that you update your facebook status too often.

Source courtesy of The Huffington Post. Image Source.