Washington: Strongly identifying with your on-line image or virtual avatar can influence your physical health and appearance in real life. When an individual strongly identifies with the cyber representation of himself known as an avatar the electronic doppelganger can influence that person's health and appearance, researchers found.

According to a University of Missouri study, harnessing the power of the virtual world could lead to new forms of obesity treatment and help break down racial and sexual prejudices."The creation of an avatar allows an individual to try ona new appearance and persona, with little risk or effort,” said researcher Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz."That alter-ego can then have a positive influence on a person's life.

For example, people seeking to lose weight could create fitter avatars to help visualise themselves as slimmer and healthier," Behm-Morawitz in a statement.In the study, 279 users of a virtual reality community, Second Life, answered a questionnaire about their engagement with their avatar and relationships they developed on-line, as well as their offline health, appearance and emotional well-being.
Self-presence, or the degree to which users experienced their avatars as an extension of themselves, was found to predict the influence of the avatar on people's physical reality.
A strong sense of self-presence in the social virtual world positively promoted health and well-being of study participants.People with high degrees of self-presence in the cyber world reported that their experience with their avatar improved how they felt about themselves off-line.

Self-presence also correlated to greater satisfaction with on-line relationships. "This study found no evidence of negative effects of a high degree of self-presence in the virtual world on study participants  however, that doesn't rule out the possibility,” said Behm-Morowitz.
"Users should practice moderation. Virtual entertainment, like other forms of diversion such as books or television, can be used in unhealthy ways," he said.Avatars can create the modern version of the book Black Like Me, in which the Caucasian author darkened his skin to experience life as an African-American in the Deep South of the 1950s.


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