Cyberspace technology often grants us (or others) control over our self-representations. At the click of a button, one can alter our avatars' appearance and behavior. Indeed, in virtual reality we can often appear to others as ideal in stature and weight, what ever we want in terms of age and gender, and exhibit perfect form while surfing a forty foot wave. Centuries of philosophical discussion and decades of social science research has explored the concept of "the self", but in the digital age we are encountering identity-bending only imagined by science fiction authors. In this talk, I explore a research program that explores what William Gibson referred to as "the infinite plasticity" of digital identity. In particular, I address two research areas. The first, called The Proteus Effect, explores the consequences of choosing avatars whose /appearance/ differs from our own. Over forty years ago, social psychologists demonstrated self perception effects, for example wearing a black uniform causes more aggressive behavior. Similarly, as we choose our avatars online, do our avatars change us in turn? A series of studies explore how putting people in avatars of different attractiveness, height, and age alter not only behavior online but also subsequent actions in the physical world. The second area examines the consequences of choosing avatars whose /behavior/ differs from our own, specifically the phenomenon of seeing oneself in the third person performing an action one has never physically performed. Once a three-dimensional model resembling a specific person has been constructed, that model can be animated to perform any action fathomable to programmers. A series of studies examine how watching one's own self behave in novel manners affects memory, health behavior, and persuasion. I discuss related communication and psychological theories, as well as implications for citizens living in the digital age.
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About the speaker:
Jeremy Bailenson is founding director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab and an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford. He earned a B.A. cum laude from the University of Michigan in 1994 and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Northwestern University in 1999. Bailenson's main area of interest is the phenomenon of digital human representation, especially in the context of immersive virtual reality. He consults regularly for government agencies including the Army, the Department of Defense, the National Research Council, and the National Institute of Health on policy issues surrounding virtual reality.
Department of Communications