This story is from the category Total Immersion
Date posted: 20/07/2007
Desiring to see how effects such as uncanny valley and other disgust provoking near-but-not-quite real visual representations of people might be formed, two researchers set out to see if mixed gender avatars would be less well received than single gender.
Kristine Nowak and Christian Rauh of the University of Connecticut in the United States created a variety of 3D virtual reality avatars. They included a blond girl with pigtails, an androgynous human, not clearly and readily identifiable as either male or female, and a ketchup bottle with a face on the label.
Nowak and Rauh also had a different group of people simply look at each avatar and make snap judgements of how credible and how androgynous they seemed.
Together, the experiments suggest that people make quick judgements about avatars that strongly influence their impression of the person controlling it. Androgyny makes an avatar appear less human, and in turn, less credible, the researchers argue.
"In online interactions, your uncertainty is very high," Nowak said. "You're really searching for anything ? the screen name, the avatar's appearance, or how long it takes to respond to message ? to reduce that uncertainty."
"So many of our cultural rules stem from gender," said Judith Donath of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the study. "If someone said 'That's so sweet', was it sisterly or patronising?"
Perception of gender can help resolve such uncertainty, Donath said, and is therefore important part of online interactions.
The results from this study strongly suggest that a person of androgynous appearance is felt to be less trustworthy than one clearly defined as belonging to one gender or another, when all other factors are eliminated. As the avatar?s appearance is a direct conduit to the person?s mind behind it, linking the two as one, the result is the person is seen as less trustworthy. This can trigger a range of unforeseen psychological influences, which can follow that person if the avatar becomes the extrusion of their persona into virtual space.
It also suggests that personages who are naturally androgynous would do best not to create an avatar completely in their own image. Ironically, the ketchup bottle was perceived more favourably than the androgynous, and more trustworthy.
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