According to findings at Stanford University, it may actually help people to have an avatar, which has implications for "residents" of Teen Second Life, Whyville.net, and of course grownup versions of virtual worlds. It has a lot to do with what having a virtual self can do for offline self-image, according to this NPR report. At Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, people visit for a new approach to losing weight, for example. They take photographs of the visitor's head, create an attractive avatar, or graphical image, of him and show this attractive self running – he actually sees himself losing weight, which seems to encourage him by showing him just how very possible it is to lose weight. So he proceeds to "try this at home" and virtual reality becomes reality. The lab also studies virtual identity. Lab researcher Jeremy Bailenson told NPR that as people with attractive avatars spend more and more time as their virtual selves, they tend to become more social – their confidence level goes up.
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