The Cowl Makes the Monk: How Avatar Appearance and Role Labels Affect Cognition in Virtual Worlds

Jorge Peña, Matthew S McGlone, Joseph Sanchez


This study examined how avatars influence operators in stereotype-consistent ways. Participants controlled formally or glamorously dressed avatars, and then created stories. Half of the participants heard a comment about the likely role of the avatar based on its looks (e.g., professor, supermodel). An automated linguistic analysis uncovered that participants using formally dressed avatars referred more to education, books, and numbers. Conversely, participants using glamorously dressed avatars used more words related to sports, entertainment, clothes, and beauty. Also, glamorously dressed avatars with a supermodel role elicited brands, exotic names, and age concerns, but the same avatar with no role stimulated descriptions of people and locations. The findings fit the assumptions of priming models and illustrate the additive effects of avatar appearance and role on users’ cognition.


Avatars, priming, spreading activation effect, computer-mediated communication, corpus analysis, storytelling.

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