Does this Avatar Make Me Look Fat? Obesity and Interviewing in Second Life

Elizabeth Dean, Sarah Cook, Michael Keating, Joe Murphy


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has observed consistently increasing obesity trends over the past 25 years. Recent research suggests that avatar behavior and appearance may result in positive changes to real life individual behavior. Specifically, users may adjust their identity to match that of their avatars.

Preliminary results of survey interviews in Second Life support our hypotheses that individuals whose avatars engaged in healthy behaviors were more likely to engage in physical activities in the real world than individuals with less physically active avatars. Furthermore, thinner-looking avatars were associated with lower BMI in real life.

One unique feature of interviewing with avatars in Second Life is that researchers have the ability to manipulate environmental factors and interviewer characteristics with a consistency that is absent in the real world. In our preliminary results, espondents were more likely to report higher BMI or weight to a heavier-looking avatar than to a thinner-looking avatar.


avatars; survey methodology; Second Life; obesity

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